Will Ahn throw hat in the ring?
Fresh from the hectic April 11 parliamentary elections, the political sphere has turned into another battleground. This time, it is all about who will become the nation’s next head of state. Attention is now turning to software mogul-turned professor Ahn Cheol-soo. He has long been regarded as one of the strongest potential presidential candidates. Ahn could match the popularity of Park Geun-hye, interim leader of the ruling Saenuri Party.
Speculation and rumors are running high over Ahn’s possible presidential ambition. Fuss and kerfuffle lingers as he has not made clear his stance on a future course of action. He has remained silent to the incessant love calls from the political parties especially the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP). An aide of his was said to have expressed embarrassment over the recent flurry of media reports, saying there has been no fixed decision as of Tuesday.
A week ago, just after the parliamentary elections, I had a chance to meet a person in charge of public relations at AhnLab, a leading software firm founded by Ahn himself. The woman in her late 30s is a general manager and calls me “seonbae” (senior). She had been a journalist companion before joining Ahn’s camp several months ago. Upon hearing she had entered the new company, I thought she might do well there with her tenacity.
When we met for lunch, I found her more stylish and self-confident than ever before. While chatting at a fish restaurant, she said she is happy with her new life. She revealed satisfaction with the people there, describing them as exceptionally good natured like Ahn himself. My question, as might be natural for a journalist and a political editor, centered on probably the most curious one – will Ahn run for president?
As expected, she did not give a clear answer at first. The next moment, however, she gave me a seemingly crucial hint. She cautiously foresaw that Ahn will likely take steps similar to incumbent Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. She cited the fact Park remained independent until the end of the mayoral election. He managed to win the Seoul mayoralty mainly thanks to the strong support from Ahn. The soft-spoken Seoul National University professor at that time enjoyed more than 50 percent support in polls for a desirable mayoral candidate, compared with Park’s mere 5 percent.
I agreed with her at that point. Despite incessant wooing from political parties, Ahn has remained neutral. He has said he will not be swayed by the ideologies of a certain party. Despite his non-partisan attitude, Ahn seems more inclined to the opposition party than the ruling one, in light of his political choices in the past such as his giving way to Park for the Seoul mayoralty. Park entered the DUP on Feb. 23.
As former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower did, Ahn is highly likely to join the presidential race at the last-ditch stage. Followers of former President Roh Moo-hyun, including current DUP leader Moon Sung-keun, are calling on Ahn to join the primaries for the opposition party. Ahn is unlikely to throw his hat into the ring for the time being as this would mean inviting attacks from within and outside the party and a waning of his influence.
Currently there are dormant potential presidential candidates in the DUP including Moon Jae-in, Sohn Hak-kyu and Kim Doo-gwan. Kim is incumbent governor of South Gyeongsang Province. Dubbed “little Roh,” he had been a close confidant to former President Roh Moo-hyun. Moon was chief aide to Roh while Sohn served as chairman of the Democratic Party (now the DUP).
The result of the National Assembly elections has shown Moon has only limited influence in Busan and his political leverage has waned remarkably. Sohn has already expressed an intention to run for the presidency. The three are almost certain to compete in the DUP primaries. Compared to Ahn, however, all of them stand little chances to win the presidency, as shown in various polls.
Ahn will likely maintain a wait-and-see attitude, neither declaring his presidential bid nor refusing to run. As he has repeatedly said, he will continue to play a role of prompting the political sector to do good for the people. The PR person said Ahn is a man of strong determination despite his gentle look. Once he judges the time is ripe, he will likely declare his presidency. It will not occur in the near future. It will happen in the close lead up to the presidential election when he sees a good chance for him to beat probable conservative candidate Park Geun-hye.
At that time the DUP may desperately try and entice Ahn as a presidential candidate should he manage to remain the only feasible option to beat Park. All my assertions, however, depend on the situation because as former President Kim Dae-jung described politics as “a living creature,” highlighting its aspect of incessant change as well as its ups and downs.