The thick mist over the possibility of the two liberal candidates merging their presidential bids ahead of the December election shows no sign of dissipating. As the long-awaited negotiations between Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party and independent Ahn Cheol-soo suddenly hit a wall, everything is uncertain about the merger and the voters are clueless about how things will play out.
On Nov. 15, 2002, Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon agreed on how they would merge their presidential bids in the election of December of that year, and eventually, Roh was chosen as the candidate of the Democratic Party a day before the candidates’ official registration deadline of Nov. 25. If we consider the way the contenders merged their bids 10 years ago, Moon and Ahn should have the process fixed by now.
Their never-ending fight betrays the trust of the voters. Moon made a lukewarm apology to Ahn for the abrupt breakdown of the negotiations, but he should apologize to 40 million voters across the country for confusing and insulting them. Moon and Ahn not only spoiled their cherished principle of having a “beautiful consolidation.” They are also accountable for messing up the election schedule and turning voters into mere bystanders.
It all comes down to Moon’s DUP playing old school games by mobilizing party members against Ahn, a distortion of public opinion rather than a fair game. It turns out DUP members around the country were ordered via text messages to sit in front of their phones or redirect calls to their cell phones to make sure they received calls from opinion pollsters.
Although the credibility of a poll depends on the fair collection of responses, Moon’s election machine - mostly comprised of pro-Roh followers - tried to mobilize supporters through a process of political engineering. That can hardly persuade Ahn to accept defeat if one is delivered to him.
Ahn, too, is partly accountable for the rupture. He’s supposed to stand for some kind of new politics, but he accepted Moon’s offer to negotiate. Ahn has defined the ruling Saenuri Party and the DUP as symbols of old politics. But when he descended from his ivory tower of academia, Ahn should have been prepared for a mud fight or two. He can protest criticism that he stopped short of making any sacrifice or demonstrating tolerance on his own.
The contenders have to clear the fog they have created as soon as possible. There can’t be many countries in the world in which voters don’t know their presidential candidates 33 days before the election.