Ahn breaks silence to discuss change, future

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Ahn breaks silence to discuss change, future

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Ahn Cheol-soo

Independent lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo criticized the inner-circles of both the Democratic and Saenuri parties, saying they make no efforts to “persuade moderate people” and constantly focus on holding onto power, leading to the polarization of Korean politics.

“The biggest problem of Korean politics is considering politics as a war between good and evil,” Ahn said in a exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo. “They define the opposite side as an evil that must be defeated.”

For the first time since he abruptly dropped out of the presidential race last November, Ahn sat down for a one-on-one, in-depth interview.

Ahn denounced the core factions of both the ruling and opposition parties for passing a bill to open up presidential records of the 2007 inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, an issue linked with the National Intelligence Service’s alleged interference in last year’s presidential election campaign, which he also addressed.

“Now is the time to take legal measures in order to lay bare the truth about the NIS’s political intervention in the presidential race to prevent similar occurrences in the future,” Ahn said. “But at this critical time, the other issue emerged, whether former President Roh Moo-hyun indeed disavowed [the Northern Limit Line] and whether the presidential records [a transcript of his remarks at the 2007 summit] were indeed missing or not.

“The National Assembly behaved in a way that could cause a critical loss in our diplomacy in the long-term and passed a bill [to open up the presidential records], which politicians should never do,” Ahn said of the vote to open the presidential records of the summit. “I think this is a perfect example of the kind of old-school politics that people want a change from. I believe these issues demonstrate the fundamental problem with our politics.”

Ahn said Korean politics needs some kind of middle path that avoids the gap between liberals and conservatives, Gyeongsang people versus Jeolla people.

“I hope I can pull down a structure that excessively shields certain political parties for a long time so that parties can have healthy competition.”

When it comes to his plans for upcoming political races, such as the October by-election or regional election next June, he said, “I will actively respond to the races in accordance with the situation at the time.”

Ahn also implied that he has made progresses in forming his own political stable of followers. “I’m eagerly meeting with people these days, and I will be able to introduce them to the public soon.”

But he refused to confirm that he was ready to form a political party.

“It’s not right to form a party right now,” he said. “If [a new party] becomes Ahn Cheol-soo’s party, it will never be successful, which was proven by history. I will discuss the situation with several people who have the same goals as I do, and we’ll jointly decide [whether to create a party]. I am not in that much of a hurry.”

When asked which politician in history he would have liked to work with, Ahn named Nelson Mandela, the former South African president.

“He is listed as a saint because he lived under political persecution but embraced all,” Ahn said. “He stood his ground of a reality on his own choosing and played politics for the purpose of making progress.”

Ahn talked with the JoongAng Ilbo at his office, dubbed the Ahn Cheol-soo Policy Cafe, in Seoul for two hours.

Q. Why did you drop out of the presidential race so abruptly?

A. I made the decision with tears of blood [a Korean phrase for a painful decision].

In the morning of the decision day, our own internal survey said I could win in a one-on-one race against Park Geun-hye, the Saenuri candidate. Although outside polls were saying I was behind the DP’s Moon Jae-in, our internal polls said I was ahead of him.

But at the time, I had made a promise to stake everything on a merger of my candidacy with Moon’s.

But the other side [Moon] declared they would have a trilateral contest [Park, Moon and Ahn] if the merger failed.

So I decided I should give up my candidacy in order to keep my promise to the people, which is the most important thing for a person who enters politics for the first time.

But many criticized you for not fully supporting Moon after withdrawing.

At the time, what I had to do was to make my supporters who didn’t like Moon vote for Moon. Toward that goal, I gave many speeches throughout the day, even though it was tough for me to tour the country for the campaign. The people who blame Moon’s defeat on me only see the outcome. Have you ever seen a candidate who lost a race because another candidate didn’t fully help him or her?

Some also criticized your departing for the United States on the day of the election.

I announced my trip to the United States a week before the election. It was not a sudden decision. I thought if Moon won and I was not in the country, he would feel much more comfortable, and not have to worry about me.

What I didn’t think of in advance was that lots of people would be hurt [by Moon’s defeat]. I should have been here to console them. I regret that.

At the time, you said the pro-Roh faction of the DP treated you as a competitor, not as a political partner, right?

Yes. That’s why I once stopped negotiations with them over merging the campaigns. I have not changed my mind about them.

Now that you have entered the political arena, what do you think about the DP’s pro-Roh faction?

The biggest problem of Korean politics is considering politics as a war between good and evil. They define the opposite side as an evil that must be defeated. The core of the controversy over the NLL transcript from the inter-Korean summit is the NIS’s intervention into last year’s presidential race. The main point is whether the national spy agency interfered with the presidential race and violated the rules of democracy or not.

But at some point, the issue shifted to whether [former president] Roh didn’t recognize the NLL, as well as whether the transcript was missing. The National Assembly behaved in a way that could cause a critical loss to our diplomacy in the long term and passed a bill [to open up the presidential records], which politicians should never do. I think this is a perfect example of the kind of old-school politics that people want to change from.

Do you think the DP’s pro-Roh faction is responsible for this?

It’s both [the pro-Roh faction and the Saenuri Party’s pro-ParkGeun-hye faction].

Do you equate the pro-Park faction with the pro-Roh faction?

In both parties, you can find many good politicians. But when they come together as a group, they commit acts that harm the national interests, which you can see in the latest vote [to open up the presidential records], driven by the interests of their parties. Restoring the true roles of politics is my goal.

Although polls say the public wants a new party led by Ahn Cheol-soo, there are very few lawmakers willing to join such a party.

People yearn for an alternative force. And that desire has lasted for the past two years. I have my own role in response to that desire.

But if I create my own personal party, it would not succeed, which Korean history proves.

Some speculate that in the next year’s legislative elections, the Democratic Party will make an alliance with you outside the Jeolla provinces but not in the Jeolla regions.

Look at the Nowon C District race. I received more than 60 percent of the vote in Nowon C District without any electoral alliance with the opposition. About half the votes I received came from people who supported the Saenuri Party their entire lives. That’s the desire people have for change.


BY KANG IN-SIK, CHAE BYUNG-GUN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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