[Viewpoint] Arrival of the ‘Cloud Party’ chief

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[Viewpoint] Arrival of the ‘Cloud Party’ chief

The guru of the enigmatic “Cloud Party” descends. To his long-awaited fans and foes frustratingly tantalized by equivocation on his intent on running in the upcoming presidential race, software mogul-turned-professor Ahn Cheol-soo finally spoke. In a recently published 275-page book in the form of an extended interview parsing over his inner thoughts, values, principles and socioeconomic outlook on the country - in other words, an elaborate campaign platform - Ahn stopped playing word games and talking in riddles.

But on the million-dollar question, he did not easily give way. True to his signature identity of ambiguity, he said he “may have to march forward if there are many who agree with [his] thoughts,” when asked by his interviewer whether he will run for president this year.

The teaser campaign from his enigmatic party began with “There are times when one cannot choose his own fate” last year with a hint of political interest. His campaign may be taking concrete steps with the publication serving as a manifesto for his maiden political crusade.

The arrival of “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts,” which became an instant best seller, upset candidates from both the ruling and opposition camps. Even for veteran politicians, Ahn is a contender from an entirely new category. It is hard to pin him down in the political spectrum as he plays the political game with his own set of rules. The political textbooks do not teach ways to counter formidable rivals from outside especially if he is someone who is known to possess the power to call upon millions of scattered voters.

Park Geun-hye, who has been trained by the political oligarchic group, unsurprisingly referred to Politics 101 when she was asked about Ahn as a potential rival. “Did he formerly announce his bid to run?” she calmly asked.

A rival, according to her teaching, should be someone who jumps into the ring. A premature move could be too big of a risk for a politician who has been grooming her dream of becoming the country’s first female president for a decade.

Candidates from the opposition camp are equally cautious. The main opposition Democratic United Party welcomed the fact that many ideas laid out in “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts” coincide with its own platform, but are fretful over a loss of votes if Ahn jumps into the presidential race.

Ahn in his book expands on the life of an introverted figure of extraordinary character and integrity who evolved from a doctor, technology developer, entrepreneur to philanthropist and professor and one day received a public call to pronounce his visions on various social problems and ongoing issues. He offers a clear and logical narrative on necessary reforms as well as explanations on various questions and doubts around him.

From a political perspective, his recipe on key welfare and other issues make up a menu that combines the best of the conservative and liberal fronts that would sell well to his customers of under the age of 50 who are unsure about the left-wing yet at the same time weary about the right.

He has sat on a somewhat passive and modest notion that “desire for a change has been transferred through him” long enough. He is now waiting for sufficient conviction that he is the herald of the casting vote group of 20- to 40-year-olds that would determine the outcome of the presidential election. If existing candidates and mainstream politicians fail to live up to expectations of the younger generation, his party of ambiguity and fluidity could rapidly gather momentum.

So far the odds are in Ahn’s favor. Park moved further out of touch with the younger voters with her comment advocating for the coup d’etat led by her father Park Chung Hee, widely remembered for his dictatorial rule. The DUP dogging her for her past and family connections also tires the younger generation. The young, who dislike repetition and favor straight candid talk, are more concerned with what leaders can do to solve inequalities and the unstable future they face.

They yearn for a special team of heroes that can deliver justice, relief and hope where the previous democratic governments have failed and condemn the corrupt and greedy who built personal rather than public wealth under the pretext of industrialization.

The mainstream politicians are vainly attempting to make up for their past mistakes by ambitious talks on economic justice and welfare.

But the bottom line is a self-serving fight over vested rights between the right and left that has no concern for the future generation. So far Ahn is their best answer. Regardless of feasibility, the generation under 50 years old has rushed to buy his book and are referring to Ahn’s “Thoughts” as a guideline to their future society. If mainstream politicians continue with ideological wrangling, Ahn will inevitably have to answer the call to command his troops.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

* The author is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University.

by Song Ho-keun

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