[Viewpoint] Political engineering era has passed

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[Viewpoint] Political engineering era has passed

A four-night, five-day live show starring Ahn Cheol-soo just ended. It was a drama of Ahn, by Ahn and for Ahn. He was the scriptwriter and main actor.

A viewer’s review posted on Twitter summarized the situation. “Park Won-soon won the approval rating; Ahn won the world; the opposition party went down to the minor league; and the Grand National Party became ragtag,” it said.

The winner of this incredibly popular show is, of course, Ahn. Finally, he managed to beat former GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye in a poll simulating a two-way presidential election. Only a fearful force could instantly destroy the belief of an invincible Park.

It is clear that Ahn is a winner. After a brief talk, the political maverick with a 50 percent backing made a clean concession to his friend, who merely had a 5 percent support rate. In other words, Ahn is cool. He satisfies the appetites of the current generation. It is a drama that no veteran politicians - even Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung - failed to present.

Some called Ahn’s move a political show. Then, how will they answer the following questions? Are there any politicians who would not run in a race if they earned 50 percent backing in a poll? Is it possible that Park, despite her 50 percent support rate, would concede the presidential candidacy to Chung Mong-joon, who had a 5 percent backing?

Because Ahn’s drama has such a surprise twist, the people are fascinated with it.

Ahn is very smart. It may be easy for him to be Seoul mayor, but it would be hard for him to be a successful one. If he engaged in a wasteful battle against the Democrat-dominated city council, he would be bounded by the frame of politics. Instead, he humbled himself and maximized his value to become a prominent presidential contender.

He is also good at delivering dramatic lines.

“My popularity is high because public distrust in current politicians was expressed .?.?. it is actually baffling that we have allowed such weak politicians to run this country,” Ahn said. But, despite his high approval rating, he also said: “I want to return to Seoul National University. It is my principle to keep a promise, no matter how small it is.”

These are great lines that can be remembered by audiences.

Established politicians are quickly labeled as narrow-minded. Their fierce fights with each other at the National Assembly became vain efforts. They face criticism for chasing after their own gains.

Among established politicians, the Democrats have increasingly turned left, and now they have lost the centrist voters to Ahn. The party is in such a serious crisis that it may not be able to field a candidate in the mayoral race.

The GNP is no different. Park loyalists expected Ahn to drop out of the presidential race, rather than become a rival of the politician they admire. But their hope is pathetic.

Close examination of Park’s popularity shows that it stems only from a sense of obligation. For instance, Park’s popularity is higher in Chungcheong and South Gyeongsang - when compared to her home province of North Gyeongsang - because residents there have a political debt to pay to Park over the Sejong City project and the new southeastern airport debate.

And today, her “beautiful acceptance of her defeat” in the GNP primary against Lee Myung-bak in the last election is no longer touching because of Ahn’s even bolder concession.

Ahn will likely dominate the centrist voters and the liberal opposition parties, rather than Park’s GNP. Ahn has made the liberals feel in debt to him by making a concession to Park Won-soon. Young voters are wild about Ahn. And today, even those in their 40s regard themselves as young because the life expectancy has lengthened.

Ahn will now be closely watched and must prove himself. His clean image of living a life outside politics may suddenly become a critical weakness. Even a miniscule flaw will dent Ahn.

Even so, Ahn’s tactic of criticizing both the ruling and opposition parties was powerful because it coincided with the public’s sentiment.

We are living an era in which we consume politics like consumer goods. Politicians say they want to engage in policy battles and define a welfare policy platform, but who actually reads the operating manual of a product before making a purchase? Nowadays, customers open their wallets when a product has an affordable price tag, features, good functions and a great design without worrying about the minute details.

An apolitical era has opened in the political arena. Politicians can become obsolete when voters no longer understand them. To win their hearts, everyone needs to keep a low profile and make sacrifices. The time of political engineering has passed. Bookstores in Youido, Seoul, probably need to display books on psychology, not politics, if they want to see brisk sales.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Lee Chul-ho
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