[Viewpoint] Ahn should make his intentions clear

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[Viewpoint] Ahn should make his intentions clear

Park Won-soon prepared for the Seoul mayoral race for a long time. He planned to make a grand announcement of his mayoral bid after tackling the Baekdudaegan peaks. Had there been no sudden speculation that Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of the Seoul National University Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, would run for mayor, Park would likely have finished his trip on Oct. 8. But he was baffled to learn that this date was a Saturday and most major newspapers do not have a Sunday paper.

Citing conditions on Mount Jiri and the Ahn factor, Park returned to Seoul on Oct. 5. The next day, he had a press conference with Ahn to announce that the two would unify their candidacies.

The ways that each used the media showed that Park is an amateur while Ahn is a professional in message control. Park did not even consider newspaper schedules. In contrast, Ahn’s choices were extremely clever. Within less than a week, he managed to pull a meteoric rise. He also maximized public attention on him by delaying his assistance to Park, and only two days before the election, Ahn showed up to hand-deliver a letter.

Park reportedly told his aides that Ahn was very different from what he had believed him to be. During their talks, Ahn gave the impression that he had prepared a lot. Park told his aides that Ahn would likely run in next year’s presidential election. Former lawmaker Yoon Yeo-joon, who had worked as Ahn’s mentor, recently told a similar story in a media interview.

So, we are left wondering when media-savvy Ahn might announce his candidacy. The latest opinion polls show that it is impossible to discuss presidential candidates without mentioning Ahn. And yet, he insists on sticking to political rhetoric such as “It is overwhelming enough for me to do my job right now,” and “I have never thought about it.”

Borrowing from the style of Kim Eo-joon, the host of the popular online satirical talk show “I am Ggomsu,” Ahn’s moves could be called “distasteful.” In his book, Kim wrote critically about Cho Kuk, a Seoul National University law professor, who has considered a possible foray into politics just as Ahn has. Cho has said he has “not yet imagined himself” participating in politics.

From Kim’s perspective, it is “distasteful” for Cho to enjoy public attention without taking a risk and flatly saying whether or not he will enter politics. Now, Ahn is vulnerable to similar criticism.

Ahn has a great image and the achievements and character necessary to become a leader. Given his talent with the media, he may be waiting for the most effective time to declare his candidacy. But from the people’s perspective, now is not too early for a public announcement.

It is encouraging that new faces are willing to join politics, particularly as voters have expressed extreme displeasure with old-school politicians. And yet, a great image does not necessarily make a great politician. Ahn must keep this in mind.

The most powerful blow to Na Kyung-won, the GNP candidate in the Seoul mayoral race, was the allegation that she had spent 100 million won ($89,000) on facial treatments. This labeled Na as a member of the nobility and anti-working class. Allegations against Park were similarly focused on his image.

And while the attacks were not objectively analyzed, their detrimental effect on the candidates’ reputations remains. Since Ahn is relying primarily on his clean image, these kinds of developments could be especially harmful to him.

Properly evaluating a candidate’s qualifications requires a significant amount of time. Candidates, or potential candidates like Ahn, probably want to stay mysterious as long as possible, but that is not what the voters want.

Preparing well-constructed policies requires even more time. Running a government - whether it is a central government or a local autonomous government - demands more than a good image. A vision and specific policies are absolute musts. And developing a platform is not something one person can do alone. Whether a candidate forms a new political party or joins an existing one, support from political infrastructure is crucial - and winning it also takes time.

It is irresponsible to remain tight lipped on extremely important national issues currently in the news, such as the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement, while also taking an explicitly political stance in an election. A budding political leader is more than a commentator and has broader responsibilities.

If Ahn plans to run in next year’s presidential election, it is already late for him to announce his intentions. If he is still undecided, he must make a decision quickly. Simply waiting to snatch the chance from others, like a cuckoo that leaves its eggs in other bird’s nest, is a shameless act. If Ahn plans to turn the old politics of “senselessness” inside out, he is running out of time.

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

By Kim Jin-kook
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