Here comes Ahn Cheol-soo styleAll independent candidates have failed in the past presidential elections in Korea. It was easy to criticize others without assuming any responsibility, but their weaknesses showed when they began speaking. Perhaps that is why Ahn Cheol-soo is playing it close to the vest.
In his latest book, “Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts,” it is hard to find a new vision. The book merely gives a simple “evaluation” on the reality. The “new politics” that Ahn talks about is extremely simple and based on common sense. It is criticism toward the business-as-usual politics.
Still, Ahn rose as an icon of new politics because he stayed away from conventional politics. In his presidential bid, Ahn said, “The people have expressed their desire for political reform by supporting me.”
Ahn has a deep distrust of the existing political parties. Kim Chon-in, a chief campaign official of the Saenuri Party, was formerly Ahn’s political adviser in the spring of last year. At the time, Kim advised Ahn to go to the National Assembly and learn about politics. Ahn asked him back, “What do the lawmakers and the National Assembly do?”
In his book, he also wrote about his lack of political experience by saying that it was fortunate for him to have less of the “bad experience in this era where we had to bid farewell to the ‘old regime.’?”
It is a justification often claimed by a politically experienced person. President Lee Myung-bak shared a similar position when he was a candidate. He was a symbol of politics outside of Yeouido where the Assembly is located.
Shortly after the May 16 military coup in 1961, soldiers also stepped forward to end political corruption. The military argued that it could not allow the corrupt, incompetent administration and politicians to handle the fate of the country and the people any longer. Even progressive intellectuals, including Chang Chun-ha, praised the promise, because they were disappointed in conventional politics. At the time, it didn’t really matter what the new politics would be.
Free from the shackle of the old politics, Ahn is in an advantageous position to make the most drastic change in political thinking. The problem, however, is his gap between the reality and ideal. It is worrisome that he is treating the role of a political party too lightly in the state affairs. In his book, Ahn said, “I am a man who trusts the party politics .?.?. The problem is not the party politics but the political parties.” If he thinks a political party is necessary but the existing ones have problems, he should have fixed the problems or created a new political party. He, however, ran as an independent candidate.
It is puzzling if his intention is to build a new party or to join a party or to become a president with no faction. He demanded the Democratic United Party to change, but he didn’t say exactly how it should change for him to join. From the perspective of the people who are accustomed to conventional politics, it seems Ahn wants the Democrats to put him on a palanquin decorated with flowers.
It is true that a president has great power, but the legislature’s cooperation is a must for a president to succeed. President Roh Tae-woo, whose party was outnumbered by the opposition parties for the first time in the country’s modern history, merged three parties together to control the majority in the legislature because he could not do anything with a minority ruling party.
President Lee, although he had a giant majority ruling party, experienced difficulties in signature projects because he failed to win the cooperation of the Park Geun-hye loyalists in his own party.
The next president’s term coincides with the current National Assembly, and the Saenuri Party is the majority in the legislature. If Ahn is elected, he will deal with the legislature controlled by his opposition. There will be no justification to seek a political restructuring after the election, and it can also drive the politics into the extreme confrontation. That will be the classic example of the conventional politics that Ahn has criticized for a long time. And it is also questionable if Ahn will actually be able to form a majority party behind him.
The realistic choice will be joining the DUP or creating a new party. Taking into account the possibility of winning the race, he will want to leave various possibilities open to boost his support and become the unified candidate of the DUP at the final moment.
If that is the case, which policy direction will he choose? The difference in the policy pledges presented by the DUP and Ahn will grow more. Ahn will have to give up his policy and depend on the DUP or force the DUP to adopt his policy as its party platform. It is possible that Ahn would just allow the DUP to use his face, or the DUP could become nothing more than Ahn’s sidekick. If Ahn’s term as the president begins in such a situation, a serious conflict between the party and the Blue House is bound to happen.
Party politics means that a political party takes responsibility jointly with its candidate. Making policy pledges requires serious and careful discussion. If the DUP and Ahn ignore the process and just split power, they won’t be able to avoid criticism for having a collusion. That is why they must hurry if they want to consolidate their candidacies. An independent candidate in the presidential election doesn’t meet the principle of party politics or our country’s reality.
* The author is a chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin-kook