Political 'bromance' between Yoon and Ahn crumbles
What began as a campaign alliance was supposed to lead to some form of power sharing if Yoon won the presidency.
But just 36 days after that victory, the two men seem to be parting ways after Yoon ignored Ahn, chairman of his transition team, in the selection of his Cabinet.
Ahn, head of the minor People's Party, abruptly canceled his whole public schedule Thursday. He was scheduled to visit the Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters that morning. He skipped a transition committee Covid-19 response meeting later that afternoon. He also did not attend a "dosirak (packaged meal)" dinner with Yoon and other members of the transition team Wednesday evening.
When asked about Ahn during a press conference to announce Cabinet appointments Thursday afternoon, Yoon said he wasn't aware of problems with Ahn. Ahn kept mum throughout the day.
On March 3, six days before the election, Ahn agreed to end his own presidential campaign, his third run, and support Yoon's. In return, they said in a joint declaration that they would form a "unified government" if Yoon won and merge their two parties. They said that they would focus on the concepts of "future, reform, practicality, disease control and integration" and "overcome ideological excess and factional logic to form a market-friendly government."
Ahn said at the time, "The two of us are one team. We will make up for each other's shortcomings and achieve a change in government, and we will definitely create a successful government through a complementary, competent and prepared administration." He was expected to take a senior administrative position, possibly even prime minister.
After Yoon's election, he immediately named Ahn chairman of his transition committee, and it was his job to draw up a blueprint for the new administration's policies. Ahn, a medical doctor, was also put in charge of the transition team's special committee on Covid-19 response.
Eight of the 24 members of the transition committee were filled with recommendations from Ahn, a promising start to the partnership.
Despite speculation that he was a top candidate for prime minister, Ahn said he wouldn't take the job on March 30, nor any other Cabinet position. He said he wanted to "ease the burden" on Yoon, while stressing he planned to recommend "qualified, clean and capable people" as ministers and have a voice in the Cabinet lineup.
Ahn's boycott of public activities Thursday came after Yoon bypassed all his Cabinet recommendations and announced other nominees on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday. The appointments included many of Yoon's closest associates, including senior prosecutor Han Dong-hoon as justice minister.
On Tuesday, People's Party Rep. Lee Tae-kyu, Ahn's closest aide, resigned from the presidential transition team's subcommittee for planning and coordination, saying that none of their recommendations were reflected in Yoon's minister nominations. Lee led the behind-the-scenes negotiations for the electoral alliance between Yoon and Ahn during the campaign.
Yoon said at a press conference Thursday afternoon that he saw "no problems" in his choice of Cabinet nominees.
Responding to a reporter's question on Ahn being reportedly angered by the snub in Cabinet appointments, Yoon said, "We selected our minister nominees after receiving recommendations regarding Cabinet appointment from many people and selecting them from our country's talent pool, and comparing them to each other."
He denied that "any specific personnel have been excluded" in the nomination process.
"I don't really understand, but I received recommendations [from Ahn], and I sufficiently explained to him yesterday the manner in which personnel appointments are proceeding," said Yoon. "I don't think there are any problems related to that."
Yoon said that he was not aware of Ahn feeling offended, though he added, "I don't know what he's thinking internally." Yoon said he sensed nothing particularly off when the two met Wednesday morning before he announced his second round of Cabinet picks.
When a reporter asked if forming a unified government with Ahn has become difficult, Yoon replied earlier Thursday ahead of the press conference, "A unified government is about finding great people and entrusting them with tasks, and it's not about who you are associated with."
Even in the days after the March 9 election, members of the People's Party expressed concerns about the deal with Yoon's People Power Party (PPP). Last month, People's Party floor leader Kwon Eun-hee asked to be expelled from the party because she couldn't accept the deal.
An official from Ahn's team said Ahn "needs time to organize his thoughts about the recent situation."
Officials from the People's Party said that Ahn met behind closed doors with close aides and party members Thursday to discuss the merger of parties and their future direction.
However, Ahn is expected to fulfill his responsibilities as chairman of the transition team until Yoon's inauguration on May 10.
The two sides are also expected to cooperate ahead of the June 1 local elections.
Bae Hyun-jin, Yoon's spokesperson, said Thursday in a press briefing Thursday morning, "We expect and trust that Chairman Ahn will do his best to fulfill his responsibilities until the end," noting that there is less than a month left in the transition period.
She added there will be "conversations to build trust and communication."
Later Thursday evening, Yoon and Ahn met at a restaurant in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.
Chang Je-won, Yoon’s chief of staff, said the two sides decided to “become one for the success of the Yoon Suk-yeol government,” seeming to make amends for the time being.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]