Consensus on visions firstFielding a single candidate has emerged as a major issue in this presidential election, too. With only 23 days left before the March 9 election, Ahn Cheol-soo from the minor opposition People’s Power (PP), proposed to Yoon Suk-yeol, the candidate of the major opposition People Power Party (PPP), to elect a single candidate through a popularity poll between the two. Ahn’s proposal is a reaction to Yoon’s reiteration of his intention to field a single candidate with Ahn in the battle against ruling Democratic Party (DP) candidate Lee Jae-myung.
Despite his persistent criticism of the Moon Jae-in administration, Ahn refused to accept Yoon’s call, saying his goal is winning the election for himself. At the same time, Ahn did not make clear his rejection of Lee’s call, either. That has fueled confusion among the voters. Now that Ahn professed a determination to field a single candidate with Yoon, that uncertainly was cleared.
However, fielding a single candidate itself cannot be the goal. In that case, an election victory will be more distant, not to mention a plethora of adverse side effects from the unification. In the 1997 presidential election, opposition leaders Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil fielded a single candidate — Kim Dae-jung — with the goal of establishing a co-government, but they failed to do so due to their intrinsic differences. In retrospective, the fielding of a single candidate in 2002 between Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon and in 2012 between Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo were motivated by the need to distribute top government posts between two parties they led in case they win elections. Their merges were not backed by a sharing of philosophy.
Yoon and Ahn must reach a consensus on the direction of national governance and visions first before fielding a single candidate. They must have a candid debate on platforms, discuss how to run the government if elected, and let the voters know the results of their discussions clearly. If they hesitate to make public their negotiations, voters cannot judge their sincerity. If the two strike a deal behind closed doors to swap the presidential candidacy and the post of prime minister, both of them will fail.
Another controversy involves the way to determine a single candidate between the two. Yoon wants to reach a conclusion through a face-to-face deal with Ahn, but Ahn wants to do it through an opinion poll. As not much time is left, they must reach a conclusion as reasonably and smoothly as possible. If they engage in a tiresome tug of war to take the upper hand until the last minute, the voters will increasingly turn away from both. They must not repeat the tragic history of the past.