Ahn Cheol-soo’s lost reformI still remember the day I learned to ride a bicycle for the first time. When I spotted a pothole ahead and tried to avoid it, I ended up falling into it instead. My bicycle was almost sucked into the hole as if it were a vacuum cleaner. As a novice bike rider, I could not control the momentum. The same may be true for a novice politician. Ahn Cheol-soo should have avoided the pothole of the candidate merger, but he was sucked into it. He was trapped, as he was affected by forces around him and political calculations and could not control himself.
Why did he have to avoid the pothole? Unifying candidacies makes all the reasons he began politics meaningless. He said he wanted to end the politics of hatred. He advocated that he would end the type of politics that makes enemies of half the citizens. He was so right, and that’s why he garnered such sensational support. But he is now willing to unify candidacies with the Democratic United Party.
What kind of political party is the Democratic United Party? Only a few months ago, the opposition party suffered a loss in the general election. Why was it defeated in contrary to the general prediction? Just as the party itself has recognized, the citizens are disappointed by political factionalism. The politics of hatred was the ailment of the Roh Moo-hyun era. Who are the ones moving the Democratic United Party? The same people who engaged in backward politics.
Regional politics encourages division, and it is a chronic disease in Korea. The new form of politics aims to end regional antagonism. Ahn advocates new politics, but he announced the merger plan in Gwangju. Why did he choose Gwangju as the location to make the crucial announcement? Why did he choose the most regionally influenced option when he says he doesn’t want to turn half the citizens into enemies?
It is the path he must avoid, but he voluntarily walked down the path. He may justify that it was an inevitable choice to attain political reform. But if he had that intention, he should have made a move earlier. He should have at least joined the party before the general election and attempted reform by gathering supporters. Only then, his sincerity and power of execution could be verified.
Who would trust him if he is unifying candidacies with the Democratic United Party right before the election as well as advocating political reform? Can he really reform the party by bringing a few professors into a political party with more than 100 lawmakers? It was a move that deceived citizens.
Ahn’s identity needs to be verified again. He has become a completely different person after he declared the merger plan. Until now, he could claim that he was an independent, moderate and conscientious politician. But he cannot claim that any more. He has become part of the DUP, the leftist faction. He criticized factionalism, but now he has chosen a faction. He spoke of new politics but is now part of the old mold. You can only make the same, old shape with the old mold.
Who suffers the most because of his transformation? Those who had high hopes for Ahn were hurt the most, and they are people in the middle, who didn’t want to support either side. They wished for integration that transcended conservative and progressive labels, who hoped for both economic growth and fair distribution, and who wanted their children to have fair opportunities. Their passion created the Ahn Cheol-soo boom. But now he has chosen a side, and no one is left to represent the dreams of people in the center. A bigger problem is he has once again made these people disillusioned with politics.
In any society, when people seek changes, the passion for reform is boiling. And people would look for someone who can represent that passion. Then a certain figure emerges. Even if that person disappears in the course of the campaign, the passion itself does not die away.
The enthusiasm will find another figure to personify the role. The early 1900s was the period when passion for innovation was boiling in the United States.
Theodore Roosevelt represented the calling of the times. He wished to run for a third term but lost to Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. However, President Wilson succeeded Roosevelt’s reform-minded enthusiasm and passed the highest number of reformist bills during his term.
The passion for reform overflowing in Korean society will not disappear. The presidential election will be dominated by it. Someone has to honor the passion. Who can channel the enthusiasm and attain reforms? If people are disappointed with Ahn, will Moon Jae-in or Park Geun-hye be able to channel the passion?
Park is affiliated with a conservative party, and people doubt if she can continue the passion for reform. She needs to become more aggressive in political reform. She has to make drastic declarations that people would be the center of politics, not the Blue House or the National Assembly.
Economic democratization is not about sharing but making sure everyone can live up to his or her potential. She needs to propose a drastic plan for the entire community, not certain classes, regions and factions.
She should not be entangled in trivial matters but take bigger steps. If she can do it, the candidate merger in the opposition can turn into a great opportunity for Park.
* The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Moon Chang-keuk
More in Columns
A cautionary tale
A government in disarray
China’s thin skin
The Korean War from China’s view
Who’s laughing now?