2012 is politically significant for South Korea, as it will holds two major elections – the parliamentary elections in April, and the presidential elections in December.
And for the first time in South Korean politics, two women are heading the main ruling and opposition parties at the same time.
Park Geun Hye, chairwoman of the ruling Grand National Party’s emergency committee, and Han Myeong Sook, head of the main opposition Democratic United Party, both joined the National Assembly together in 2000 as lawmakers.
However, they come from very different backgrounds.
Ms. Han was a female activist and was put behind bars for two years from 1979 after being involved in a spy scandal. The 67-year-old politician then became the country’s first female Prime Minister under the late President Roh Moo Hyun.
She was indicted twice in 2010 and 2011 on charges of receiving kickbacks from local businessmen on separate occasions. But she was later cleared in both cases.
In contrast, the 60-year-old Ms. Park spent most of her early days inside the presidential Blue House, as her father ruled the nation for nearly 20 years. She played the role of the First Lady for about five years after her mother was assassinated.
The ruling Grand National Party is undergoing major changes under Ms Park, as it struggles to regain public confidence. The ruling party currently holds 171 seats in the 299-member parliament, but it has suffered major setbacks in the last elections and also lost the Seoul mayoralty in October 2011 to an opposition-backed candidate.
Meanwhile, the former-prime minister turned politician, Han Myeong Sook, has the tough job of trying to integrate her party – which was formed through a merger between the main opposition party, major labour union leaders and other smaller groups to form a united front against the ruling party.
Their first test will come in the April parliamentary elections. Ms Park is expected to run in the presidential race in December, while it is uncertain who will be the opposition candidate.
Analysts said the fact that these two women are leading the two main political parties in South Korea is a major step forward for all women politicians in the country, considering that only about 16 per cent of current lawmakers are women.