Conservative candidate Park Geun-hye claimed victory Wednesday in South Korea's closely contested presidential election, an outcome that will make her the first woman to lead the Asian nation.

In addition, Park boasts a fascinating personal history that's deeply intertwined with South Korea's evolution in recent decades.

Park's father, Park Chung-hee, was a military dictator who seized power in 1961 and ran the country for nearly two decades. He was known as a ruler who suppressed democracy, but also oversaw Korea's rapid economic rise from a mostly agricultural society to a global industrial powerhouse.

In 1974, gunmen attempted to assassinate him, but instead killed his wife. Their daughter, Park Geun-hye, just 22 at the time, effectively became the country's first lady.

Park Chung-hee continued to rule until he was assassinated five years later, in 1979.

With South Korea now a solidly democratic country, Park Geun-hye, who has never married or had children, has been a lawmaker for the conservative New Frontier Party.

In Wednesday's presidential race, she won about 52 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating her liberal rival, Moon Jae-in, according to NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Seoul.

"This is the triumph of the people's desire to overcome crisis and to rescue the economy," Park told supporters. "I will be a president that keeps the promises I made to you and ushers in a new era of happiness."

She has pledged to strengthen the country's social safety net at a time when economic growth has slowed. And during the campaign, Park apologized for human rights abuses committed by her father.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit