Ahn’s wobbly tightrope

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Ahn’s wobbly tightrope

After defecting from the opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo declared Monday that he will establish a new party next year. The new party, which is supposed to be reforming in its ways, is expected to launch around the Lunar New Year holiday in early February. The new party led by Ahn, a former, failed presidential contender, will pursue an anti-Saenuri Party course with no affiliation with the NPAD.

Ahn’s departure deepened the split in the opposition camp. A new party working under the current two-party system carries significance as it opens up new possibilities for a reform-minded third party settling down in the Korean political terrain. If Ahn’s new party can secure in the April 13 general elections more than 20 seats - large enough to become what’s known as a negotiation bloc in the National Assembly - it could pave the way for a new politics based on pluralism and potentially put an end to the extreme polarization between our two main parties. Ahn’s new party could serve as a catalyst for an advanced political system, which we’ve been waiting for ever since the restoration of direct presidential elections in 1987.

But Ahn has not presented a clear vision for his new party. He relies on fuzzy abstractions like the “replacement of the government” or the “clearing up of old politics.” There are concerns that his new party will turn into another regional party based in North and South Jeolla, or that his party could even attempt a coalition with the NPAD ahead of the general election - dashing cold water on any hope for a reform-minded moderate party.

If Ahn joins with old political forces with vested interests in Jeolla, the home turf of the opposition, he will not only lose popularity there, but also have a negative impact on the opposition camp as a whole. If Ahn attempts to cooperate with the NPAD and field common candidates in neck-and-neck races in Seoul and other constituencies to win, he will critically damage his greater cause for reform. He really must compete with the NPAD to prove his reformist ideals.

Given Ahn’s vulnerability as a political neophyte, he may find it hard to resist temptations for strategic alliances. If he yields to that, he will end up as the minor parties absorbed into existing opposition parties. If Ahn really wants to show that he stands for reform and a “new” form of politics, he must run a national party that draws support from “healthy” conservatives and moderates. If he fails to do that, his new party will follow in the same footprints of many predecessors.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 22, Page 34

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