Moon and Ahn’s obligationLiberal presidential candidates Moon Jae-in of the largest opposition Democratic United Party and independent contender Ahn Cheol-soo announced a seven-point plan outlining their strategic merger. The question now is who will run as the head of the unified ticket to pose a formidable challenge to conservative front-runner Park Geun-hye. The consolidation of the candidacies, however, can distort and undermine election procedures by drawing attention away from crucial policies, debates, visions and evaluations. With this reality in mind, the two candidates should take into account important points when negotiating the merger.
The two should move beyond rhetoric like “a joint declaration on new politics” and be more specific in outlining their vision and direction. They must not end up listing grand ideas without substance. They must define what exactly they mean by new politics and persuade voters of why they need to unite in order to pave a new path for the country.
In 1997, liberal candidate Kim Dae-jung and his archrival, conservative Kim Jong-pil, formed a union bringing together democratic and industrialization forces after more than a year of negotiations. In 2002, candidates Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon came together without brooding over the necessity of the merger. Moon and Ahn do not have the time the two Kims had in 1997, but will nevertheless have to convince the people that they are not uniting merely to beat the front-runner. If their union is simply motivated to win and gain power, it could deal a devastating blow to our election culture.
The two camps should discuss coordinating their policies to present a congruous and clear direction. Ahn has been largely characterized as a liberal on the economy and a conservative on security issues and successfully earned the support of many centrists. Moon, however, has been outspokenly more liberal than President Roh Moo-hyun, under whom he served as chief of staff. He opposed the Korea-U.S. free trade agreement that Roh initiated and sounded more left-leaning in his comments on the Northern Limit Line, the western maritime border with North Korea. Both must clearly unite their voices on issues involving the United States and North Korea as they can affect the country’s security. They also must explain what issues they differ on and how and why they have come to an agreement.
Lastly, they must finalize merger talks as soon as possible to give the public enough time to compare and contrast the policies of the two main candidates.