Ahn’s wake-up callThe ruling Grand National Party is still shaken from the staggering political phenomenon that software pioneer Ahn Cheol-soo has stirred in society, even after he stepped back from running for Seoul mayor. The frenzy of hope produced by Ahn, dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology of Seoul National University, underscored the extent of public disgust in mainstream politics, which is largely centered around the ruling party.
Ahn also epitomized the public’s desire for a kind of vengeance against the GNP’s ineptitude. Polls showed that nearly 70 percent of Ahn’s supporters turned to the opposition camp after he announced he wouldn’t run in the upcoming Seoul mayoral by-election. But instead of humbly accepting the public’s obvious scorn, the GNP continued with its usual blame game between rivaling factions.
An executive meeting among senior party members following Ahn’s decision not to run in the election was no different from any other meeting. Members talked of the need for change without the slightest hint of passion. They agreed that the so-called Ahn phenomenon was a by-product of public anger and disappointment in the party and that the party must reinvent itself if it wants to hold onto power. But it was all gas. The GNP reverted to its good old boys ways and misused its majority power to prevent the expulsion of Kang Yong-seok, a former party member who disgraced himself by making lewd remarks about aspiring female newscasters. Rep. Won Hee-ryong came under attack when he criticized the party’s defense of Kang.
The GNP’s problems are deep and serious. Even as Park Won-soon, a civic activist, suddenly gained the spotlight after Ahn supported him as a Seoul mayor candidate, the ruling party can’t find a formidable candidate to replace Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who stepped down to take responsibility for a failed referendum on free school lunches.
The GNP desperately needs to come up with a candidate but it’s making little progress because of its chronic factional divide. There is no candidate within the party who can satisfy both the main and minority factions. The leadership must seek out a moderate and successful candidate whom both factions can support.
What the GNP should fear is the public, not Ahn Cheol-soo. Ahn may run for something in the future, or he may not. But the voters are always there. The ruling party should thank Ahn for the wake-up call.