[Viewpoint] Is Ahn our messiah?Ahn Cheol-soo thinks for a long time before making a move. When he was a medical student at Seoul National University, he wanted to learn how to play the game of go, or baduk. He memorized 50 books about the game. And after a single year, he reached the top level as an amateur player of the game.
He uses a method that combines study, preparing hard and completing a task within a short period of time. He is a perfectionist who thinks for a long time before making a move.
Ahn is probably approaching politics with the same philosophy and style. He is at the final stage of his studies and preparations. He has met almost all key policy makers in Korea and most responded that they would like to lend him a hand. And yet, Ahn has not made public any decision to join politics because he’s sticking to his own philosophy and strategy. It is his principle that he only makes a promise when he is 99 percent certain of being able to fulfill it. Ahn’s secret of keeping his promises is knowing not to make any that he won’t be able to keep. That’s why he does not make a promise even if he is more than 90 percent sure of an issue.
Ahn is probably about 98 percent sure of his going into active politics. It’s already been one year that people around him have been talking about his presidential ambition. Venerable Beopryun and doctor-turned-investor Park Gyeong-cheol, who hosted the “Youth Concert” series of lectures with Ahn, as well as veteran politico Kim Chong-in, who currently serves as a co-chairman of the campaign of Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Park Geun-hye, and former lawmaker Yoon Yeo-joon urged Ahn to participate in politics.
In a recent media interview, Kim said he tried to persuade Ahn for four months since May 2011 to run in the legislative election. But Ahn turned down the proposal, saying that “a lawmaker has a job that doesn’t do anything.” He talked about the possibility of running in the Seoul mayoral by-election, Kim recalled. But then, Kim said, the two of them split.
Ahn’s account was different. “There are many people who offered to help. I listened to their advice and gave a nod, but that is it. I have my own judgment and historical view.”
The veteran politician’s way of talking and Ahn’s way of talking were very different.
Ahn’s skepticism about the legislature is about distrust of business-as-usual politics. That was probably why Ahn wanted to work in an administration, and thought about serving as Seoul’s mayor. Although Ahn conceded the candidacy in the Seoul race to Park Won-soon, it would be more accurate to say that Ahn was after the presidency all along. Because of his peculiar philosophy - “Once I begin something, I must do it for at least 10 years!” - he probably imagined a two-step schedule of going after the presidency after serving as Seoul mayor.
Ahn’s thoughts probably didn’t change much over the past year. He appears to have his own judgment on the situation and a definite self-assurance. The starting point is his philosophy of contribution and service to society, giving back as much as he has received. It is a recurring theme in his book and lectures.
In fact, Ahn has lived up to that principle by providing free computer vaccines and donating some of his wealth to charity. That is a different level of will power from other existing politicians. His past behavior appears to represent a very long path to the presidency. His determination to “retaliate” against the Saenuri Party is also firm. He is confident about having the spirit of our times and the king of new leadership necessary for the country to overcome unprecedented crises at home and abroad.
Ahn’s judgments about the situation come from the popularity of his Youth Concert lectures. Ahn gains confidence from the heated atmosphere at such events, drawing it from an adoring audience.
Public opinion polls reflect his popularity. His support rate has long been the highest among the liberals. “If he declares a bid, won’t there be a big boost?” his father has asked. As contrasted to other candidates, there is a high possibility that Ahn’s popularity will go up even further. In that case, there is a good chance for him to beat Park of the Saenuri Party.
His strategy is also different from other politicians. Ahn talks about changes in society and emphasizes that “the power of the social media is extremely strong.” Comparing it to a game of go, he is saying that social media will be the decisive battleground. If you are in control of that vital point, it is easier to fight. Ahn appears to have decided there is a higher chance of victory if he directly appeals to voters through social media without depending on one of the country’s distrusted political parties.
If that is Ahn’s judgment, there is, of course, no reason for him to rely on a political party. He just has to be self-confident and do his best. Ahn is continuing his studies and contemplation to fill the remaining 1 percent, and the political situation is growing more and more favorable to him. The popularity of the liberal candidates has not changed much, and they have slim chances to win the election. The presidential primary of the ruling party is also going flat.
Voters are increasingly frustrated. Although politicians are making public their presidential bids, expectations are high for someone who hasn’t even announced an aspiration. It remains to be seen if Ahn can live up to such high expectations. Anticipations are high that Ahn’s hard study will make him a great leader. But it is also important to remember that there is no messiah in the political arena and that the bigger the expectations, the bigger the disappointment could be.
*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Oh Byung-sang