Rep. Park Geun-hye is nicknamed "Ice Princess" for her reluctance to show emotion and, by extension, to play the gender card, a kind of survival tactic in a world of politics dominated by men.
Now, the ruling Saenuri Party's presidential candidate has apparently thrown caution to the wind, and starting to appeal to women at a time when the outcome of the Dec. 19 election is hard to predict using the campaign motto, "Time for the first woman president."
"The time is ripe for the nation to have a strong female leadership as the harsh economic reality facing grass-root citizens calls upon a leader who can sacrifice herself like a mother for the sake of people's livelihoods," she said in a recent speech.
Gender was previously a taboo subject for Park.
Her opponents alleged that the four-term lawmaker has never submitted a bill calling for any improvement of women's rights.
Park Sun-sook, a chief campaign strategist for the Ahn Cheol-soo camp, said that she was not sure if Park deserves the title of a female candidate who cares for female voters.
"I am wondering if there has been any cases showing that Park as a politician has genuinely represented the best interests of women," the former lawmaker said.
Park has positioned herself as a tough lady, like a battlefield commander spearheading a military operation. This is probably because she has been in a position to take responsibility for election results.
Insiders say Kim Sung-joo, CEO and chairwoman of the luxury MCM bag maker Sungjoo Group, was an agent of change behind Park's gender remarks these days.
Kim, also co-chairwoman of the Park camp, reportedly recommended the 60-year-old politician to play the gender card.
During a meeting with senior Saenuri Party members, Monday, Kim touted female leadership for the nation. "So far, we've seen that the politics of disappointment has gone on," the businesswoman said.
"The only way we can end the vicious circle is to vote for a female candidate as the next president and empower the new leader to fulfill her vision of clean politics."
Despite being a female presidential candidate, Park has not actively pursued women voters.
In a recent Seoul Shinmun newspaper poll, Park garnered 47 percent of support in a hypothetical two-way race with independent Ahn who had 45.3 percent.
Asking for anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media, a ruling party official said Park was benefitting from Kim's involvement in her campaign.
"Kim stands out because of her uncommon dress code, choices of words and her being outspoken, both in a positive and negative way. But the fact that she is unusual draws much attention from young women, particularly in their 20s," she said.
Inside the Saenuri Party, some apparently feel uneasy about Park playing the gender card to boost her ratings.
They say risks lurk as Park could fall victim to the stereotypes that women are weak and need protection and that Korea is not ready for a female president.