[Viewpoint] Ahn’s a politician nowHow long will the Ahn Cheol-soo wave continue? After word was leaked to the media that he might run in the Seoul mayoral race, Ahn rose meteorically, becoming the biggest political variable of the current moment. On Tuesday, he conceded to his “respected comrade” Park Won-soon and declined to run in the next month’s Seoul mayoral by-election. But not many people think Ahn will walk away from politics and return to his profession and expertise. Speculation is high, in fact, that Ahn will try to play a bigger role on the political stage ahead of next year’s legislative and presidential elections.
Through the latest episode, Ahn confirmed the wide support he enjoys from the public - a very significant personal gain. He also reinforced his clean image by conceding to Park at the end, leaving a favorable impression with the public. Ahn’s true intentions are not known yet, but the people around him are talking about the presidential election. The dynamics of next year’s election have been unexpectedly shaken.
People around Ahn have long urged him to make a presidential bid rather than run for Seoul mayor. A close acquaintance of Ahn describes the events of the past few days, leading up to Ahn’s concession to Park, as a “very thoughtfully planned scenario, including its conclusion.” Ahn has confirmed his support among the public, established himself as not being greedy for power by conceding to Park, and naturally became a potential presidential candidate, the acquaintance said. Ahn’s one move earned him three gains.
His supporters are now discussing scenarios sketching out Ahn’s grand dream. According to them, the next election will be won by the opposition because voters are deeply disappointed with the conservative administration. Then, if a liberal president takes office, the demands for welfare will be enormous. This would risk destruction of fiscal balance, and someone would need to stop the public clamor for welfare to save the country.
And yet, none of the liberal politicians within the existing establishments are capable of doing so, no matter which of them might become president, because such a move would bring about fierce protests and charges of treachery. The only president who could wisely cut through this dilemma would be someone backed by the liberals and the general public. Ahn is the best candidate, their argument goes.
It has yet to be determined if Ahn is following a game plan dreamt up by his friends. When declaring his decision to stay out of the mayoral race, Ahn said: “Instead, I will pay with an honest and hard-working life by not putting myself first but society, without forgetting the expectations of the people who have shown faith in me and supported me.”
Depending on the interpretation, his remarks sounded very profound. Of course, it is hard to predict what will actually happen in the coming year, even if Ahn makes a presidential bid. It is impossible to say if he will be able to maintain the support shown in recent polls. The moment he climbs on the political stage, the bubble may pop. In the real world of politics, mudslinging will await him, and it is doubtful if Ahn, as a freshmen politician, could endure such a dirty, tough process.
Ahn may portray himself as being outside of politics, but for him, there’s no going back. In recent days, he directly criticized the ruling party and joined the move to field a unified liberal candidate in Seoul to “deter the ruling force from expanding,” and the final result was his decision to stay out of the race.
That was a specific political action, and he has become a real-life politician. That’s why he has a duty to answer the concerns of the many people who are concerned about his political ambition.
He is an IT specialist and successful software start-up entrepreneur as well as the new dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University. And, many are urging him to stick with the world he knows best rather than take a U-turn into politics. He, of course, could always stay in his prestigious university post and intervene in politics from time to time.
But that is not the right way to serve the students and the school. The recent episode was already more than enough to perplex the university. It is time for him to move on. He has gone off the academic trail.
The public has shown a zeal for a new kind of politics by supporting Ahn. He has been given a mandate to lead political reform and create a new, productive style of politics. He has interpreted his popularity by saying: “I think it was an expression of the public’s desire for changes in our society’s leadership.”
How can he meet those expectations? Ahn is from an elite family and graduated from Seoul National University’s College of Medicine at the top of his class. He studied at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and became perhaps the only successful businessman from the first IT boom. He has already been at the top. He is elite.
How will he win the hearts of the working class? That is the task that Ahn is facing as a politician.
*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Heo Nam-chin