Ahn’s experiment has begun

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Ahn’s experiment has begun


Presidential hopeful Ahn Cheol-soo leaves a press conference on Sunday after declaring his departure from the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy. [Kim Seong-ryong]

I received a text message from presidential hopeful Ahn Cheol-soo on Nov. 24. It was a response to a column titled, “Why Ahn Cheol-soo cannot trust the pro-Roh faction.” He wrote, “I’ve read your column today. A political party that cannot reform itself won’t be able to reform the country even if it seizes power. A bigger problem is that an incompetent opposition party would make the ruling party arrogant, and the citizens would be the ultimate victim. I would never forget the strong desire to reform the old politics.”

When I asked him to make a healthy opposition party, he replied, “I will come to a good conclusion.” The message, from three weeks ago, already suggested his intention to leave the party.

There are two things we need to pay attention to in Ahn’s decision to leave the party. In the statement, he used the expression “political power for administration change.” Administration change does not refer to the general election next year but the presidential election two years later. Some also heard him shouting, “I am a very stubborn man,” the night before he announced defection. He practically cried out his intention to run in the 2017 election no matter what.

The pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction was mistaken to consider his signals of defection as threats and then pressured him to leave if he was so confident. Ahn has no reason to adhere to the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD). If the pro-Roh hegemony becomes solid after the general election, the doors of opportunity for his running in the presidential election will close. Ahn is a politician - not a philanthropist who yields to another candidate every time. He won’t be making political contributions and support forever.

The liberal media blame him as the ringleader of division of the opposition. They attacked, writing, “Defection cannot be justified no matter what. It is a self-destructive choice and betrayal,” and “Ahn is now unqualified to speak of new politics or administration change.”

In order to absorb the shocks from his departure, he should be isolated, they believe. However, Ahn claims that his defection is not to divide the opposition, but for “creative destruction.” Han Sang-jin, professor emeritus at Seoul National University, made a meaningful argument that there is no chance for the general election, so for the next presidential election, Ahn must first topple the current biggest opposition party.

What NPAD leader Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo have in common is the game of go. Moon started playing go (baduk in Korean) in middle school and is amateur 3 dan. He is faithful to principles, and when he resigned from the Blue House chief of staff position, he said he was happy to return to his hometown and play baduk all he wanted. Ahn’s baduk skill is also amateur 3 dan level. His entry into the game was unique. In his second year in college, he decided to learn baduk and started reading books on baduk. He read 40 books a year. In the Youth Concert, he said, “I started baduk from third rank, not 18th rank.”

Ahn’s defection shows signs of his style of long-term planning. According to Keum Tae-sup’s “We Want a Winning Opposition Party,” Ahn resigned from the presidential candidacy in 2012, saying, “I need to give up fairly to pin hopes on the future.” In the mayoral election, he also supported Park Won-soon’s candidacy. To Ahn, these two concessions are his biggest political assets. And he has declared, “I am a very stubborn man.” What would happen if Ahn maintains a 10 percent support rate and continues to go his way until the presidential election in December 2017. It would surely be a nightmare for the opposition party and an opportunity for Ahn, as neither Moon nor Park could ask him to yield one more time. It would be against the national sentiment or courtesy, too. As division would lead to a sure defeat, the supporters of the opposition would ask the opposition to come up with a single candidate. Then, the tail, or Ahn Cheol-soo, could wag the dog, the NPAD.

The Honam (North and South Jeolla provinces, a home turf of the opposition) sentiment is the key variable in Ahn’s destiny. We need to see if his defection will be the epicenter of a political upheaval or a storm in a teacup.

Unless Ahn secures the spirit and value of the time on his own, his defection will be no more than a political trick. While he has so far earned empathy by advocating “eradication of the old progressivism,” his slogans for new politics are still ambiguous. Yet, Ahn has already shouted out he would go all the way. Whether he ends up in a disaster or puts the main opposition in a catastrophe, the time of destiny is ticking away.

*JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 15, Page 34

The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Lee Chul-ho

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