Ahn Cheol-soo’s blusterIndependent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo is a valuable asset for our society. He waged a lonely battle against computer viruses and succeeded in creating a Korean antivirus software. After setting up his start-up business, he distributed antivirus programs for free. He was successful as an entrepreneur and turned his company AhnLab into a leading software developer in the country.
After he finished business management studies in the United States, he returned home not only to teach, but also give free current event lectures to college students across the nation. To mainstream politics, his entry offered a jolt and a reawakening. The political establishment, which has been lethargic and innately resistant to reforms, responded with urgency.
However, being of value to society and to politics are different ideas altogether. A lecturer should be able to get his or her point across clearly. A businessman should make profit. A political leader has to take responsibility to solve society’s problems. Responsibility and a capacity to address a mountain of problems facing the nation are not skills that can be developed overnight. They are imbibed on the battlefields of history. They require a sense of community and knowledge of political, economic and social systems. They require conviction. Only when a person is equipped with a sense of duty can he become an asset to a country’s politics.
Ahn fares poorly when measured for experience, knowledge and conviction. Nevertheless, he jumped into the presidential race claiming to bring a revolution to politics. He may be lacking in every field, but insists he can challenge the old school with his new experiments.
But is he all that new? Are all his actions and comments fresh? Unfortunately, we can hardly agree. He may speak of new politics, yet he is playing by the old rules.
One of evil practices of politics is, of course, demagoguery. Ahn said that he will spend government money on the people, not engineering and construction projects. He attacked the incumbent government pork-barrel project of renovating Korea’s four major rivers. But what he claims is misleading. Infrastructure is intended for the people. Highways and dams do not serve animals and fish. What infrastructure does not serve the people? Isn’t his envision of a cross-peninsula railway also a construction project?
Old politics is fraught with duplicity and lies. While a graduate student, Ahn inherited an apartment planned for redevelopment in Sadang-dong, southern Seoul. He benefited from redevelopment and modernization in the district, but he criticized the Yongsan urban redevelopment project as an excessive and greedy development. He made a fortune from redevelopment in Sandang-dong, yet refers to the Yongsan redevelopment project as an excess. He has also been critical of migrating politicians. But one of the most famous migrant politicians now serves as co-head of his campaign. It raises serious questions on the yardstick he uses to criticize and evaluate politics.
Old politics is prone to populism. Ahn pledged to make a formal apology, on behalf of the government if elected president, for the whole process of building a naval base on Jeju Island. Gangjeong Village was named as the site of the naval base by the Roh Moo-hyun administration. It was chosen among three candidate villages because of the highest approval from residents. The Supreme Court ruled the construction legitimate. A presidential hopeful stirred controversy because he didn’t get the facts right. He met with pro-environment protestors, but not with the Navy, which is struggling to get the delayed construction underway. What government can plan important state projects if it must apologize when faced with groundless opposition?
Old politics is also about irrelevance and recklessness. Ahn vowed to move the Blue House to a place more accessible and close to the people. The presidential office is a symbol of modern Korean history. Yet he does not explain why, when or where he plans to move the Blue House. He just raised the subject to strike a chord with the people. President Lee Myung-bak’s communication problem has more to do with his personality than where he lives. And what alternative place is there in the capital for the Blue House anyway? Does Ahn mean to reclaim the Han River to make space for the presidential office?
When the idea came under attack as being too bizarre, his aides said that the decision on the timing and venue would be made after public debate. But public debate does not have magical force. Under Ahn’s logic, anything is possible through public debates. Anything is possible in the name of the people. Anything is possible as long as it sounds good at the time. Simply put, Ahn is either too naive or utterly irresponsible.
Ahn has embarked on a grand journey that he hopes will transform him into a valuable political asset. He said he has already burnt the bridge he crossed, meaning there is no turning back. But to become a political asset, he needs to be able to build a new bridge. He needs to collect the nuts and bolts of experience, knowledge and conviction to build the foundation of a genuine political career and pursue it with due responsibility and capability. It is not an easy job. The question is whether he is cut out to become a real architect and builder - and not just of a new Blue House.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Jin