Perot’s lessons for Ahn Cheol-sooIn 1992, Ross Perot ran for president in the United States. Twenty years later, Ahn Cheol-soo shook up the presidential election in Korea. The two have a lot in common.
First, in a one-on-one opinion survey, Ahn often surpassed Saenuri Party candidate Park Geun-hye in popularity last year. In June 1992, Perot led a Gallup poll with 39 percent, ahead of incumbent President George H. W. Bush, with 31 percent, and then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton, with 25 percent. It was the first time in 60 years that an independent runner had topped the poll.
Second, on March 18, 1992, Perot spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. He said, “Daily we watch with fascination as Congress and the White House finger-point, shout, fight with one another like children. Recently it’s been more like mud wrestling as far as I’m concerned.” When Ahn declared his candidacy on Sept. 19, 2012, he said, “Many people have felt hopeless because all politicians have done is fight with one another.”
Third, when Perot, who lacked nationwide organized support, earned a surprising 18.9 percent of the votes, the New York Times analyzed that independent, white and middle-class voters under age 45, who distrusted the existing politics, were Perot’s main supporters. The origin of Ahn Cheol-soo’s sensational popularity comes from independent young office workers.
Fourth, three years after his election defeat, Perot founded the Reform Party in 1995. If Ahn is elected in April’s by-election in the Nowon C District, he is expected to create his own stronghold.
Now, we need to look at what happened after Perot’s second presidential bid in 1996. He could not recreate the sensation of his first candidacy and earned only 8 percent of the votes. Ahn could learn a lot from that rise and fall. Most importantly, an independent runner can emerge suddenly by addressing the frustrations of voters tired of the incompetence of politicians. But it’s hard to continue the boom by criticizing existing politics alone.
Ahn is running in Nowon C under the abstract banner of “new politics.” His explanation of exactly what that means has been ambiguous. He recently tweeted, “With my new politics, I mean to do what politics are supposed to do. Going back to the basics is the new politics.” Ahn has not clarified the economic, social and ideological goals he would like to attain. Unlike Perot, he did not run for president, and joining the Democratic United Party remains an option.
Now that Ahn has entered politics again, he needs to express a specific vision beyond ambiguous criticism of the status quo. The ruling and opposition parties are clashing over many pending issues, and it will soon be revealed if he has prepared any specific goals. From the qualifications of two Unified Progressive Party lawmakers to the direction of the North Korean Human Rights Act, many questions await him.
*The author is a deputy political and international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chae Byung-gun