[Viewpoint] Ahn comes off as a dreamer

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[Viewpoint] Ahn comes off as a dreamer

The attacks on the political stage these days are all about so-called “judgment” and “qualifications.” The opposition camp is calling upon voters to bring judgement upon the Lee Myung-bak administration and the ruling Saenuri Party for five years of blunders, venality and incompetence. The ruling party, in return, claims the opposition parties are unfit and unqualified to run the country.

The Saenuri Party won last April’s general election by a near fluke, although it did relate to qualification for office. The opposition leadership lost face with a highly inconsistent flow of remarks, and popular anti-government podcast program host Kim Yong-min, who was running for the main Democratic United Party, added to his party’s disfavor by unleashing a string of foul and distasteful comments during the campaign. Voters were repelled.

Emboldened by the surprise win in the election, the ruling party upped its drumbeat of criticism against liberal and left-wing politicians. Lee Seok-gi of the Unified Progressive Party and Lim Soo-kyung of the DUP were at the eye of the storm for their North Korea-related views and controversies.

The election midgame has received a new twist with the resurgence of a contender who poses a threat to both the ruling and opposition camps. Software mogul-turned- professor Ahn Cheol-soo, now basking in the political limelight with the publication of a book of his thoughts and a well-watched TV appearance, is being bombarded with questions about his qualifications as a presidential candidate.

Critics were disappointed by his book “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts,” which contained his answers to questions posed by interviewer Je Jeong-im, a journalism professor, on a variety of issues ranging from welfare to North Korea. They declared that Ahn’s views were too shallow and immature for a presidential candidate. They likened his views to that of a student activist lacking depth or comprehensiveness.

The most important qualification of a leader is an objective and far-reaching eye. The tragedy at a Yongsan redevelopment site in the middle of Seoul three years ago that ended in six deaths - five civilians and a police commando - can offer a test to a leader.

Tenants, who armed themselves on the rooftop with Molotov cocktails to protest their eviction, were engulfed in a dangerous standoff with the police. The squatters threw Molotov cocktails at passing cars. The building caught fire, killing six. The court sentenced the protesters to a prison term.

A state executive has the duty to uphold law and order and defend law enforcement when it is just. But Ahn would reexamine the redevelopment project. Ahn called the incident a “calamity generated by a government obsessed with development.”

He also spoke his mind on the mad cow scare that prompted nationwide protests against the government and its policy of lifting a ban on American beef imports despite questions about its safety at the beginning of the Lee Myung-bak administration. “If a government fears a congregation of the masses, it is because it lacks confidence in the justice of its policy,” he wrote.

He must have a blurred idea of peaceful and violent rallies. It is not a mere congregation that attacks the police and turns a city’s downtown to mayhem. Ahn criticized the police defense line as a fortification for President Lee. But could he make the same assertion if armed protesters march toward the presidential residence while he is in it? He also was critical of the government and the year-long protest at a shipyard of Hanjin Heavy Industries while keeping mum on the corporate and industrial consequences of the prolonged strike, which was illegal.

On the controversial naval base in Jeju island, he said even an important state project cannot be pushed forward if local residents can’t be persuaded to accept it. But here again, Ahn needs to study. The construction was pursued after two polls of Jeju residents. Of three locations, Gangjeong Village was chosen through a referendum. The project was initiated and decided during the Roh Moo-hyun administration. The Supreme Court also ruled the project was legitimate.

On North Korea, Ahn was simply naive. He said President Lee and his government worsened inter-Korean relations because they primarily resorted to sticks. He obviously had not given deep thought on how North Korea killed an innocent civilian tourist and fired deadly weaponry to sink the Cheonan naval ship and bombard Yeonpyeong Island or how the North Korean leadership used massive South Korean aid to develop nuclear weapons. The government complicated the Cheonan case by discrediting doubters of their case, Ahn said.

But the government included experts recommended by opposition parties in its team investigating the tragedy. Ahn demonstrated a knee-jerk antagonism toward the government without giving it any credit.

Ahn’s views on the issues of welfare, jobs, national pensions, public health insurance and labor also lacked substance. Korea Economic Daily chief editorial writer Jeong Kyu-jae in his Internet TV show parsed Ahn’s comments. His dissection drew 100,000 viewers. Ahn said he would decide whether to run in the presidential election after gauging readers’ response to his book and his thoughts.

If he is sincere, he should build up his knowledge and capabilities to be better ready to take on his critics. Otherwise, his “thoughts” would amount to nothing but a midsummer night’s dream.


*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin
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