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Ahn Cheol-soo to formally organize a political party in MarchSingle opposition candidates key to his victory in local elections

The gubernatorial and mayoral elections are slated for June 4 this year and all major political parties in Korea are looking for eligible candidates to compete with their rival parties.

The election results are expected to be greatly influenced by the candidates of a third party to be formed in March by former Presidential Candidate Ahn Cheol-soo who now heads the New Politics Committee (NPC).

Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the New Politics Committee has announced that he will officially form a political party before the end of March this year and to nominate the new party's candidates in all 17 gubernatorial and mayoral elections. On the occasions of past elections (Seoul mayoral by-election and Presidential elections), Ahn conceded his candidacy to the contestants although he prevailed upon all of them in public opinion polls, voluntarily in the case of the Seoul election and reluctantly in the case of the Presidential election. From this, Ahn said, "I made concessions in the last elections and I believe that now is time for the beneficiaries to reciprocate."

At an informal meeting with reporters on Jeju Island on Jan. 21, 2014, Chairman Ahn of the NPC said that he will complete formally organizing his party by the end of March and that the new party will nominate candidates for the 17 local autonomous districts, including Seoul, Busan and all the major provinces.

Then he said that he was not seeking a single opposition candidate arrangement through negotiation with the main opposition Democratic Party (DP).

“The new party will root out the ‘political ills’ of Korea that have not been cured for the past several decades,” said Ahn. “Then we will cause great changes for the better in the Korean political arena at all cost.”

Earlier, Ahn’s NPC has held a similar explanation meeting in the major metropolitan cities of Daejeon, Busan, Gwangju and Daegu.

The Korean voters are sick and tired of irregularities and corruption involving politicians and political parties, their ideological conflicts and regional favoritism and confrontation.

All opinion polls on political parties show the ruling Saenuri Party running front closely followed by the Ahn party (yet to be formed). The main opposition DP is not popular and its approval rating is somewhere one third of the Ahn party.

One typical survey result showed Saenuri Party winning 35% followed by Ahn party with 32%, DP with 10%, Unified Progressive Party (UPP) with 1% and the moderate progressive Justice Party (JP) with 0.4%.

▲Ahn Cheol-soo (third from left) with the principal members of his New Politics Committee, who are liberally minded differentiating themselves from both the conservative and progressive political organizations. Some come from the ruling camp and others from the opposition political parties.
Following Ahn’s declaration of formation of the new party and announcement of nomination of its candidates for all major local elections, support for Ahn has been increasing.

Former National Assembly Kim Sung-sik of the ruling Saenuri Party has announced his intention to join the NPC of Ahn Cheol-soo as one of its co-chairmen. Kim used to work as a member of the joint election campaign camp of Ahn during the Presidential election in December 2012.

In a related development, the Incheon Forum for Tomorrow declared its support for Ahn’s NPC on Jan. 22 and announced that it would nominate candidates for all the local elections of the Incheon Metropolitan City, including the mayor of Incheon, chairman of the Incheon Metropolitan Council and the mayors and council chairmen of all the districts of the Incheon City.

However, the most important election is the Seoul City, the capital of the Republic of Korea. Seoul accounts for one quarter of the total population of the Republic of Korea and therefore it is a crucial area that will decide on the result of the June local elections, and perhaps the fate of all political parties, Saenuri and DP as well as for the Ahn party.

From left, former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik, incumbent Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul, and former Chairman Chung Mong-joon of the ruling saenuri Party. Kim and Chung are among the conservative political leaders who might run for the Seoul mayoral election from the ruling Saenuri Party to compete with Park Won-soon.

At the time of the last by-election for the mayorship of Seoul on Oct. 26, 2011, Ahn and incumbent Mayor Park Won-soon competed with each other. However, Park was no match for Ahn because Park had only five-percent approval rating at most opinion surveys while Ahn won 55%, which was 11 times as much as that of Park.

However, Ahn compromised the Seoul mayor candidacy to Park asking the voters to support Park for him. As a result Park won the Seoul mayoral election although he had been lagging substantially behind the ruling Saenuri Party Candidate Madam Lee Nak-yon. In other words, Ahn literally made Park the Seoul mayor.

In the last Presidential election, too, the then independent Presidential candidate Ahn won the first place in most of the opinion polls where the then Saenuri Party Candidate Park Geun-hye prevailed on DP Presidential Candidate Moon Jae-in but Ahn won in most survey competitions with Park.

However, Ahn had to reluctantly give up his candidacy to Moon in spite of his outstandingly favorable opinion survey results because he wanted to affirmatively respond to the common call of the opposition camp for a single opposition candidate.

At the time the DP was substantially influenced by Moon’s pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction compared with the pro-Kim Dae-jung faction. Many people say that Ahn could have won the Presidential election if he had run as the single opposition candidate instead of Moon.

At a meeting with the press on Jan. 19, Ahn said, alluding to the past Seoul mayoral election and the Presidential election, “I made compromises on the two occasions before and it is time now for ‘them’ to reciprocate and make the concessions.”

Ahn Cheol-soo (right) and Park Won-soon warmly hug each other after Ahn conceded the Seoul mayoral election candidate to Park. Ahn recently said that it was high time such beneficiaries reciprocated.

In response to this, Mayor Park of Seoul City was quoted by the Korean media on the following day as saying, “Of course, I would (concede) if it would be to the benefit of the Seoul citizens but…” This was a clear indication that Park did not like the statement of Ahn who said it was time for the other side (Park) to compromise.

The DP, which is influenced by the pro-Roh faction, has reportedly gone a step further by telling Park (a member of the DP) that Park should not have used the indirect means of expression in response to Ahn’s call for compromise. It reminded of the attitude of the DP during the Presidential election in 2012 when it literally forced Ahn to quit.

Koreans have a time-honored saying, Eobujiri, literally meaning ‘a fisherman’s gain’ made from troubled waters. This refers to the ruling Saenuri Party. When the Ahn Party and the DP fights with each other over a piece of pie, the Saenuri Party will get the pie without much difficulty.
This confrontation between the Ahn Party and the DP and competition also joined by independent candidates, there are possibilities that the ruling Saenuri might sweep the votes like the fisherman fishing in troubled waters.

The then Presidential hopeful Ahn Cheol-soo (right) and Democratic Party Presidential hopeful Moon Jae-in. Ahn conceded candidacy to Moon.

All told, for Ahn it dependents much on the possibility of agreeing with the DP and other opposition-oriented independent candidates for a single candidacy to compete with the candidates of the ruling Saenuri Party.

As was briefly mentioned earlier, incumbent Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul had made it clear that he would not give up re-election race when Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo said he had already made concessions twice and that it was time they had been reciprocated by the beneficiaries. This means at least two candidates will run from the opposition camp, including one from the NPC, which will split the opposition supporters, and this will be hitting the jackpot for whoever will join the race from the ruling Saenuri Party.

Former Chairman Chung Mong-joon of the Saenuri Party had previously announced that he would not run for Seoul mayor election but it seems that the new turn of the situation could encourage Chung to change his mind in favor of running. This could also happen to former Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik of the conservative camp, who had previously also denied any intention of running for the Seoul mayoral election.

이경식 기자  edt@koreapost.com

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