[Viewpoint] Ahn’s laid-back movesLately, Ahn Cheol-soo, the Seoul National University professor, has been making interesting moves. He visited a rally condemning the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors and appeared in a video supporting the broadcasters’ strike at MBC. He made condolence calls for the late Park Tae-joon, honorary chairman of Posco, and the late Kim Geun-tae, a senior advisor of the Democratic Party. He never met either in person but mourned their passing, saying, “We are all indebted to you.” Of course, Ahn remains silent on sensitive issues. He has not spoken out about the free trade agreement with the United States or the construction of the naval base in Jeju. He has never mentioned welfare issues, the best-selling policy promise among politicians these days.
Politicians are interpreting his motives in their own ways. Hong Sa-duk of the Saenuri Party declared that Professor Ahn has passed his expiration date as a presidential candidate. He claims that Ahn’s mentors, Kim Jong-in and Yoon Yeo-joon, are no longer on his side. The Democratic Unity Party’s Moon Sung-keun was even harsher. “If Professor Ahn has no intention to participate in the Democratic Party’s primary for the presidential candidate, he should send us a letter.” The Democratic United Party has benefitted the most from the Ahn Cheol-soo syndrome and the sensational popularity of the podcast “Naneun Ggomsuda” (“I’m a Petty-Minded Creep”). The Democratic United Party must think that it can win the presidential race without help from the outside.
Based on his dichotomous moves, Ahn’s intentions are obviously confusing. But we may be misunderstanding him completely. If you look at him through the prism of “common sense versus nonsense,” his motive is perfectly clear. He is strictly following common sense. Professor Ahn has precisely addressed the points that the moderates of the Korean society hope for. He has been incredibly smart and clever. Before realizing it, the conservatives were disarmed. The Democratic United Party has been swept up in the candidate selection for the general election and has crossed the line of common sense calling for the repeal of the Korea-U.S. FTA and the stopping of construction of the naval base in Jeju.
The ruling and opposition parties are busy praising their own accomplishments in choosing candidates for the general election. Park Geun-hye, head of the emergency leadership council of the Saenuri Party, insists that factions were not taken into account when the ruling party made its selections. Han Myeong-sook, chairwoman of the Democratic United Party, called her nominations “solid.” However, there are criticisms that the pro-Lee faction was massacred within the Saenuri Party. Lawmakers Kim Moo-sung and Kang Bong-gyun are noteworthy among the nomination bloodshed as they chose to retire and exit.
Politicians are repeating the conventional election campaign practices of biting and tearing into each other. When Park criticized the Democratic United Party for changing its stance over the FTA and the Jeju base, Han responded that she was “extremely ignorant.” They are walking a tightrope on which they have to push the other off in order to survive. However, we now have an alternative called Ahn Cheol-soo. As the political confrontation becomes dirtier and harsher, the attention of the public goes to Ahn. He has set himself apart from the run-of-the-mill politicians with a laid-back attitude. “If the ruling and opposition parties do their jobs well, I think there would be no need for me to get involved in politics,” he has said. Other quotes: “The human rights of the defectors are the most precious commodity regardless of ideology” and “The attempts to oppress the truth in broadcasting should be blocked.”
Neither the ruling nor the opposition parties want to make Professor Ahn an enemy. Han kept her options open and said that the party could bring him in or otherwise support him as a candidate. Both sides are afraid of Ahn’s potential. Yet, Professor Ahn has stepped aside from the general election in April and is keeping a low profile. Nevertheless, he is magically at the front in opinion polls on presidential race scenarios. If the ruling and opposition parties continue to get obsessed in the general election and make attacks on each other, the voters will grow tired of existing politics more and more. That expands the room to deviate from conventional politics. Ahn may already be winning without anyone noticing.
Generally, a typhoon gets past the Philippines and hovers over Okinawa for a while. Here, the fate of the typhoon is determined. If the ocean of public sentiment cools down or the typhoon is blocked by high pressure in the northern Pacific, it dies away as a mere tropical cyclone. But when it is supplemented by vapor from heated oceans and boosted by an unstable atmosphere, it grows into a super typhoon.
The Ahn Cheol-soo storm is somewhere over the ocean of public sentiment. We need to watch whether the general election will turn the storm into an overwhelmingly powerful super typhoon or a mere tropical cyclone.
* The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Cheol-ho