Ahn must say how he would seek presidency
Succeed or fail, Ahn Cheol-soo will surely go down in Korea’s political history as a most unusual presidential contender. That is, if he joins the race at all.
Less than five months are left before the Dec. 19 presidential election, but the medical doctor-turned-information technology guru-turned-college dean is still hinting that he might run if ``sufficient people agree” with the visions he laid bare in a book published Thursday.
“Ahn Cheol-soo’s Thoughts” was written by Je Jeong-im, a professor at Semyung University Graduate School of Journalism, based on conversations she had with Ahn on a variety of topics. Seen favorably, this is extreme caution and modesty. From less favorable viewpoints, it is sheer opportunism wrapped up in a cunning PR scheme.
Yet, few of his rivals, including the ruling Saenuri Party’s likely candidate Park Geun-hye, can make light of this soft-spoken, scholar-like person, who chases her most closely in a presumptive two-way race. The main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) has long wooed Ahn to join it or form a unified candidacy.
All this is because of massive popular support for Ahn, as reaffirmed by the sale of the book on his views on major issues, which will likely sell out soon.
Ironically, his popularity mainly comes from his otherwise biggest weakness as a potential candidate ― a lack of political experience ― or, in other words, Koreans’ disillusionment with existing politicians and their parties.
But how will his disadvantage-cum-advantage turn out in real politics?
By most appearances, including the timing of the book’s publication and the impression of his interviewer, his formal announcement of candidacy seems to be a matter of time. Which leads one to more questions: Would five months be enough time to conduct a campaign without a national organization if he refuses to join the DUP? Media reports say Ahn has only now begun to select his chief-of-staff. Even if he wins, how will he rule ― through SNS fan clubs or a narrow pool of experts?
All these doubts will prove far more difficult to overcome than expected in actual electioneering. This latest book shows his platform, summed up by his call for the creation of a just and fair society politically and economically, is largely similar to that of the left-of-center DUP. Ahn attributes his refusal to join the DUP to his disappointment with the party’s adherence to vested interests as shown in its nomination of candidates in April’s parliamentary polls. Yet he must know in election politics, almost nothing is possible without a strong national party.
The 50-year-old says in the book his role model is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who saved America from the Great Depression through his New (Fair) Deal. Yet observers suspect Ahn’s actual benchmarking model is Dwight D. Eisenhower, who jumped in the fray near the end of the 1952 race and grabbed the presidency almost unscathed. There are more dissimilarities than similarities between the two other than the difference of time and space. Eisenhower’s popularity’s was so great that even the incumbent president tried to become his running mate, and the U.S. war hero made clear his political affiliation to the Republican Party.
Ahn needs to be more frank with himself. He has never been a lawmaker or a provincial governor, and all the administrative experience he has is running a mid-size software company. Voters do not know who are working for him. A three-way race will all but certainly lead to victory for a governing party candidate. Any attempt to escalate voters’ interests in Ahn until final hours could result in an unintended outcome. This is all the more so if Ahn’s professed purpose is not to take the top job but see his ideals are realized.
The best way forward for Ahn is to join the DUP and take part in its primary to get the public’s appraisal of himself and his policy.
If tactical ploys lead to strategic failure, he will not just end up a unique but a laughable contender. More importantly, the politics and the nation he dreams of will be at least five years further away.