A candidate in the clouds

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A candidate in the clouds

The fog is still dense. The million-dollar question remains whether the name of Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University, will be on the ballot as a presidential candidate on election day in December. Arguments over whether it will or won’t dominates conversations in bars, restaurants and cafes.

I once referred to Ahn as the guru of the Cloud Party. Clouds are unpredictable. They can gather or scatter. They are fluid. They form various sheets and layers, and can condense into rain or evaporate into vapor depending on the altitude, temperature and humidity.

The age group of people under 40 makes up the main elements of Ahn’s clouds, and it remains unclear whether they will be happy with a wishy-washy answer from their guru that his ultimate goal may not be the presidency. And it’s unlikely he’ll say that, anyway. It’s both interesting and baffling that our future may be at the mercy of an enigmatic person gazing down upon us from a cloud of support with an undetermined strength. Will we have some drama and action added to this monotonous campaign with Ahn added to the equation? Voters endured the tedious primary races of the main opposition Democratic United Party hoping for a twist at the end that didn’t come. Now that Moon Jae-in, a genteel reincarnation of the late President Roh Moo-hyun, has won, let the real contest begin.

The next player - Ahn - will likely hop down from his cloud and enter the ring waving at a frenzied audience. He followed the ritual of a candidate preparing to bid for public office by visiting the May 18th National Cemetery - a kind of shrine symbolizing the country’s democratic movement - to pay respects to student activists victimized during protests against dictatorial rule in 1980. He nevertheless kept to his enigmatic style, making the stop discreetly - but informing reporters later of his visit.

Ahn, in my opinion, is not a politician type. He was courted, encouraged and pushed onto the political stage. He embodied all the positive virtues the young generation sought in a leader - modesty, humility, honesty, devotion, wisdom and success - and his fans volunteered to become his campaign. Moon said he was becoming a presidential candidate by “fate.” That’s a dangerous delusion. What kind of stroke of luck does it take for someone so passive and reluctant to become a formidable presidential candidate?

His indecisiveness and vagueness may be understandable. A person who spent most of his life in labs and the academic realm and never dreamt of becoming a state leader would have needed some time to whip up ambition and courage. He may have asked himself a million times what to do, and sought opinions from others.

Some may have shaken their heads, but many others would have encouraged him to have a go. Trying to buy time with the excuse of exploring public opinion and communicating with the public, he may have wanted to hide his vulnerability as a candidate in the rough and tumble political world. The rumors and criticism about him are mostly groundless so far, deriving from anxious cynicism against introverted and self-disciplined characters.

But still, we can’t shake off anxiety about someone so inexperienced, so dry and so self-protective trying to become a political leader. Even if he runs in the race, we can hardly imagine him organizing a party, shouting at crowds through a loudspeaker and mingling comfortably with street merchants.

The media, on behalf of the voters who are annoyed at the waiting game, badgered Ahn to step up to the podium. The time is ripe with the campaign hitting a peak ahead of the Chuseok holiday. He can hardly tell the people who have waited all this time that he won’t be running - unless he has plans to emigrate.

I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t reveal everything today. He won’t give away any more than the fact that he has come to a decision.

When he is asked to elaborate on a campaign platform, he may say please refer to his book, and then hop back on his cloud. It is the way of the enigmatic. He may return to his quiet corner and wait until his immediate rival Moon becomes weary from attacks.

If Moon appears to be losing energy and public favor, Ahn will offer to exchange situations and jump into the ring on his behalf. He may come back in late October as a kind of savior to the liberal and opposition fronts to officially throw down the gauntlet against ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye. With less than two months left until the election, he will likely engulf himself with ambiguous and grandiose slogans like justice, peace and harmony, and highlight his signature politics of symbolism.

I hope I prove to be entirely wrong about Ahn and his campaign strategy. If not, I hope 40-somethings smarten up. They hold the deciding vote in the upcoming election. They must decide whether they will leave their country in the hands of a self-righteous candidate, a reincarnated Roh Moo-hyun or someone who lives in the shadow of her father.

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

by Song Ho-keun
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