Fielding a single candidate

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Fielding a single candidate

Shin Yong-ho

The author is a senior editor of the JoongAng Ilbo. 

 Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon agreed to field a single candidate 24 days before the 2002 presidential election. Roh proposed it 46 days before the election, and negotiations began. It took more than 20 days. In 2012, Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo reached an agreement 26 days before the election as Ahn withdrew from the race. Moon proposed talks 45 days before the election. To field a single candidate some 20 days before the March 9 presidential election, main opposition People Power Party (PPP) candidate Yoon Suk-yeol and minor opposition People’s Party (PP) candidate Ahn Cheol-soo must start negotiating now. The election is only 33 days away. Oh Se-hoon and Ahn Cheol-soo negotiated on fielding a single candidate for the Seoul mayoral by-election last April 29 days before the election. But considering the gravity of the presidential election, it is already late.

Some say that agreeing on a single candidate will be difficult. Political commentators, including Insight K director Bae Jong-chan, think fielding a single candidate is becoming remote. Ruling Democratic Party (DP) election committee chief Woo Sang-ho predicted that agreeing on a single candidate would be impossible because there’s not enough time left.

After Yoon’s approval rating recovered, the PPP claimed he can win on his own. They argue that even if they agree on Yoon as a single candidate, not many Ahn supporters will be absorbed by Yoon’s side. It will be hard to reach a deal on fielding a single candidate because of an apparent fierce fight over how to do it. In the process, their rating will certainly fall. 
Main opposition People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, right, and minor opposition People’s Party (PP) candidate Ahn Cheol-soo clap during a religious event in Seoul, January 17. [JOONGANG PHOTO]

The one who is firm on opposing the deal is PPP head Lee Jun-seok. On January 29, he said that the Lunar New Year’s holiday (January 29 to February 2) would be the deadline. He even got emotional and said he does not like Ahn. When both were members of the Bareunmirae Party, they continued to clash over many issues, including a feud over the party nomination. At this point, Lee is once again acting emotional and erratic by vetoing the single-candidate deal. Won Hee-ryong, policy chief of the PPP’s election campaign committee, said, “We needed a heater when it was cold, but spring has come. Do we really need this heater now?” His remark shows what the campaign committee thinks about Ahn.

Will Yoon’s sole lead work? In fact, if Ahn’s approval rating, which was over 10 percent a month ago, continues to surge, the PPP would cling to making a deal. As Yoon’s ratings went up despite controversy over his wife, talks for a single candidate subsided. But ruling Democratic Party (DP) candidate Lee Jae-myung is closing the gap in the New Year’s poll. For Yoon, going to the election without agreeing on a single candidate is dangerous. The latest election situation is fluctuating, with the wind completely changing in a week or two. It is hard to understand the PPP’s confidence about Yoon just because his rating is a bit higher. A source knowledgeable about the PPP said, “The opposition treats the election like a game. If you lose in a game, that’s all. But the ruling party considers the election as a war, so if you lose, you die. That’s a tremendous difference.”

In the end, it is up to Yoon to choose. But he is not aggressive yet. Those around him say he is pessimistic about the single-candidate deal. He may think it is not to his advantage to talk about fielding a single candidate now as he could widen the gap with Ahn. But time is running out. The deal cannot be made just because he makes up his mind. Ahn still says he is the one who can bring power change. I expect the path to a single candidate to be rough.

Even as DP candidate Lee’s rating is on a plateau, President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating is still strong. The ruling party is completely united. It is not easy to change the ten-year power change cycle to five years. In the U.S., only four presidents failed to be re-elected since World War II. No one knows what unexpected variables will shake the ratings.
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