Sohn moves closer to Ahn camp

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Sohn moves closer to Ahn camp

Sohn Hak-kyu, the former Gyeonggi governor and presidential hopeful who made a comeback to the political arena Thursday, says in a new memoir that he asked software mogul Ahn Cheol-soo, former head of the People’s Party, to join forces for a change in administration.

Sohn’s memoir, “My Admonitions for Governing the People: A Ganjin Diary,” was released Thursday, the same day Sohn declared he would leave the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea at a press conference at the National Assembly. That announcement sparked speculation that he might join forces with the minor opposition People’s Party of Ahn.

In his book, the 68-year-old politician recounts that Ahn came to visit him in Gangjin, South Jeolla, in August and the two discussed joining forces to work for a change in government.

In July 2014, after a humiliating defeat in a legislative by-election in Suwon, Gyeonggi, Sohn moved to a remote village in Gangjin and shunned outside contact for over two years until his recent reemergence.

“I thought Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo did not drink at all but when we met, he drank a cup of makgeolli (traditional rice wine),” Sohn recounted in the book.

Ahn was described as telling the former adviser to the Minjoo Party, “I would leave all matters of operating the party if you join the People’s Party.”

Sohn wrote that he told Ahn, “The Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations over 10 years have made the country a mess, and it will take over 10 years to set it straight again.”

Sohn is a former political scientist who joined politics in 1992 by becoming a lawmaker of the conservative ruling Democratic Liberal Party, a predecessor of the Saenuri Party.

He served as a lawmaker, health minister and Gyeonggi governor with the conservative party. To realize his presidential dream, he left the party in 2007 and joined the main liberal opposition party. In 2007 and 2012, he ran in liberal primaries and was defeated both times.

He describes in the book that he could feel “the atmosphere of a much more mature politician in Rep. Ahn” since the software mogul ran as a presidential candidate in 2012.

After Sohn’s return to politics, Ahn was quoted as saying, “Since he has officially returned, there will be an opportunity to meet with him. At a time when the nation is in crisis, more people are needed to join hands together.”

Sohn has been considered a possible Third Zone or Third Way candidate for president, after he pushed for a constitutional amendment to introduce a new governing system. The Third Way or Third Zone refers to a party or campaign distinct from loyalists of President Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party and supporters of Moon Jae-in of the Minjoo Party.

Kim Kwan-young, deputy floor leader of the People’s Party, said in a TBS radio interview Thursday evening, “If Sohn needs a coalition and needs that as a condition to join the People’s Party, I am sure that Ahn will take this into consideration with flexibility.”

On Friday, three-time lawmaker Minjoo Rep. Lee Chan-yeol, who represents Suwon, declared he will also leave the Minjoo Party out of loyalty to Sohn. He said in a press conference, “It is now time for me to help Sohn. I plan to go with him just like in the beginning.”

On the subject of Sohn and Lee exiting the Minjoo Party, People’s Party spokesman Ko Yeon-ho said in a statement Friday, “We welcome the decision of the two at a time when the people are disappointed in the vested interests of the ruling and opposition parties and promise to work together to give the people hope.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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