[Viewpoint] Reasons to be afraid of AhnThe recent broadcast of the talk show “Healing Camp” on which Ahn Cheol-soo appeared was not really fun. Ahn didn’t injure his wrist as Moon Jae-in did during a brick breaking demonstration on the same TV show; Ahn didn’t panic like Park Geun-hye did during her speed quiz on the show. The “Healing Camp” episode was no more surprising than episode on which he appeared in 2009. And yet, the audience rating was almost double those of the episodes that Moon and Park appeared in.
Ahn’s latest book, “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts,” is also a snooze. The books Ahn published in the past talked about his experiences frankly, and they inspired youngsters to “not lose their courage.” But his latest book is just a collection of election pledges. It’s a book that throws good advice at all the problems in the world. And yet, it became an instant bestseller and more than 150,000 copies were sold over the five days since its publication.
In one way it’s surprising that Ahn is at the center of public attention when he can be responsible for such boring TV and book-length prose. It is surprising for a bystander, or an outsider, but it’s a fearful event for Korean politicians. A Saenuri Party lawmaker said, “I could touch the fear with my hands.” That is why the politicians’ remarks downplaying Ahn’s book are mere reflections of frustration and uneasiness. They are scared inside and pretending as if nothing is troubling them on the surface.
Let’s see why Ahn should be truly feared. The worst nightmare of a political party is a presidential defeat. From the perspective of a politician, they fear Ahn because of the possibility of losing the next presidency to him.
It has become almost certain that Ahn will run in the December presidential election. His book is a collection of campaign pledges. Ahn considered running in last year’s mayoral by-election in Seoul because he thought to himself, “It is unjust for the Grand National Party to win the mayoral post again.” And recent poll results suggest that the ruling party’s frontrunner, Park Geun-hye, will likely win the presidency.
This is all part of Ahn’s calculation. That is unjust. Ahn needs to stop it. Ahn needs to run for president. Fulfilling the expectations of the people, who are disappointed with politics, is the responsibility of Ahn, so his presidential bid is “not his choice” but “the choice of the people.”
Because Ahn’s presidential bid is “the calling of our time and an effort to uphold justice,” he cannot quit in the middle of the race if he decides to run. Ahn, “who isn’t afraid of challenges or wounds,” is “just doing his best - rather than going after a success.” He’s not like the puny, run-of-the-mill politician, who just wants to win a job. He’s on a mission for justice.
In this case, the presidential election will probably be a three-way race among candidates of the Saenuri Party, the Democratic Party and Ahn. In a three-way race, Park’s victory is almost certain. That is why the liberals think it is their top priority to unite their candidacy with Ahn. If the choice is made based on popular support, Ahn will likely be the final liberal candidate.
Ahn’s campaign will demonstrate a strong destructive power. He has already shaken the normal framework of debate by labeling business-as-usual politics part of the “Ancien Regime.” To Ahn, both ruling and opposition parties are phenomenon to be liquidated.
Any politician who resists his labels and defends politics as they’re actually played will fall into the Ahn pit. The reality may be dirty, but the ideal is sweet. Voters will highly likely go with Ahn’s professed innocence and his politics bashing.
But there is a reason for the ordinary citizens, not the politicians, to fear Ahn. It is the question of what Ahn would do with a presidential victory. From the perspectives of the ordinary voters, “Who will run the country better” is more important than “who will win the presidency.” Ahn is a devoted doctor, successful businessman and creative educator. Will that guarantee his success as a president?
It is predictable how Park or Moon would run the country. Their politics won’t surprise us too much and Park and Moon will be supported by their parties. There will be many disappointments in their presidencies, but their predictability will lessen our anxiety.
What would an Ahn presidency be like? All we have to guide us is his personal experience and his book of boilerplate pledges. They are not enough to evaluate Ahn as a politician. Ahn has shown no blueprint for the days that follow the Ancient Regime. “Communication and agreement” are not enough.
People want Ahn to formally declare a candidacy - and verify his qualifications. Many voters are sick and tired of the liberals’ never-ending slump and the unchallenged conservatives. That’s why the voters are looking to Ahn - with both high expectations and distinct unease.
* The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Oh Byung-sang