DP's Lee appeals to Ahn after opposition merger falls through
Ahn in a press conference Sunday withdrew his offer to unify campaigns with main opposition PPP presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol, conveying his intention to stay in the race.
Late Sunday, Lee wrote on his Facebook account regarding the scrapped opposition merger, "I sympathize with candidate Ahn's anguish."
Lee criticized the current political system stemming from the 1987 Constitution in which a "two-party monopoly forces people to choose" between the ruling and main opposition parties, "making a third choice impossible."
The DP, after skirting a worst-case scenario of a merger between Yoon and Ahn, could be pushing for a turn at unifying forces with the People's Party ahead of the March 9 election.
DP chief Song Young-gil told reporters Sunday, "We value candidate Ahn's proposed agenda of becoming a science and technology powerhouse and are prepared to accept it."
He said, regardless of a merger, "candidate Lee is ready to form a unified government, and is always open."
Song added, "I think that candidate Ahn's announcement is the result of [PPP Chairman] Lee Jun-seok, candidate Yoon Suk-yeol — or the PPP side — insulting and demeaning candidate Ahn."
On Feb. 13, Ahn proposed conducting a merger with Yoon through a public opinion survey to field a unified opposition candidate and ensure a change in government. The PPP gave a lukewarm response and, while welcoming of a merger, party officials expressed they were not keen on deciding on a single opposition candidate through a survey.
During his Sunday press conference, Ahn criticized Yoon for his unresponsiveness to the merger proposal. He also called out the PPP for distorting his intentions and undermining his sincerity and expressed disgruntlement over the spread of fake news, saying he will no longer waste any more time.
"I will steadfastly go my way," said Ahn, trying to shed his reputation for dropping out of past presidential and mayoral elections last minute in favor of mergers.
Ahn reportedly was being offered a prime minister or Gyeonggi governor position by PPP officials, which he particularly resented.
On Saturday, Ahn resumed his campaign activities after a three-day mourning period for a local campaign official and a driver who died last week on the campaign trail from carbon monoxide poisoning inside a chartered bus, apparently from a leaking power generator for an LED screen.
On Monday, Ahn posted on his Facebook account, "I am resuming presidential campaign activities with the mindset of starting from the beginning."
Ahn wrote in the post that the previous morning ahead of his press conference he visited a museum dedicated to Ahn Jung-geun, the Korean independence fighter who assassinated Hirobumi Ito, the first Japanese resident-general of Korea, at a railway station in Harbin, China, in 1909.
Recalling the independence fighter's heroism and sense of justice, Ahn Cheol-soo described him as "a pioneer in pursuing universal values and happiness 113 years ago."
The candidate added, "Ahn fought for the future, not the past. As I left the museum, I vowed to honor his sacred wishes."
The PPP, however, is keeping open prospects of a last-minute merger with Ahn Cheol-soo.
Speaking on the collapse of a merger with Ahn, Kwon Young-se, chief of the PPP's presidential election campaign, said, "We will continue efforts for a change of government."
He told reporters when asked if merger negotiations will be continued, "It is very regrettable what happened yesterday," but said it is "not polite to the other party" to give a longer response.
Addressing Ahn's reason for withdrawing a merger proposal to criticism from Chairman Lee and other PPP officials, Kwon said, "There may be various opinions within the party unless it is a small one."
He added, "There may be some opposition to a merger, but I believe the mainstream opinion may be different," leaving open the possibility of joining forces with the People's Party.
Kwon continued, "I think that a change in government is one of the causes that takes precedence over other things."
While there reportedly was miscommunication among party officials in the negotiation process for a merger between the PPP and the People's Party, political analysts point out that an agreement could still be made through a top-down approach, with the candidates themselves reaching a consensus.
Thus, there is some weight put on the possibility of an eleventh hour merger, with a week left until a potential deadline of the ballot printing date on Feb. 28.
Ahn fell behind the two major candidates in the latest survey conducted by the Korea Society Opinion Institute released Monday, which showed Lee with an approval rating of 43.7 percent, followed narrowly by Yoon at 42.2 percent. Ahn was in the single digits at 5.8 percent, followed by Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party at 2.7 percent. The poll was conducted on 1,002 adults over Friday and Saturday.
Lee gained 3.3 percentage points compared to the previous week, taking lead for the first time in six weeks, against Yoon who fell 1.3 percentage points.
The four major candidates spent Monday preparing for the first of three televised debates hosted by the National Election Commission that evening, on the topic of economic issues.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]