Campaigners for Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo both claimed triumph for their respective candidate in Wednesday’s televised debate. Moon’s said he was in charge with charisma and Ahn’s argued that he proved himself to be a caring communicator.
But there was no clear victor when it comes to their wish to revive the momentum for their alliance talks and rally voters behind them in the Dec. 19 election against conservative Park Geun-hye.
After the much anticipated debate between independent Ahn and his Democratic United Party rival Moon, questions still linger on how their performance will affect the merger of their candidacies in the days to come.
Cho Guk, an influential Seoul National University law professor who had proposed a step-by-step merger process for the two progressive candidates that won strong approval from the DUP, picked Chung Gwan-yong, the moderator of the debate, as the winner.
“He brought out the crucial scoop that the two candidates would be meeting today to finalize the lagging negotiations (over the rules of candidacy merger),” Cho wrote on his Twitter of Chung, who teaches at Hanlyim University and also sidelines as a political commentator.
Cho also said that Moon strived to take a logical approach to the issues at hand, while his former Seoul National University colleague attempted more to pull the emotional strings of the viewers.
For some, the debate provided a revealing tableau of the two candidates’ incompatibility. “It was a debate that raised the question of why the two candidates should unify their candidacies,” said Ga Sang-joon, a professor in politics and international relations at Dankook University. “The differences between the two felt quite big.”
Ga pointed out that because the two candidates had failed to reach a prior agreement on major policy issues, such as economic democratization and North Korea, the debate highlighted their political differences.
Some experts on public opinion raised the possibility that the debate might perhaps damage the planned merger process.
Yoon Hee-woong, who covers overseas analysis and interpretation of data at Korea Society Opinion Institute, said that Moon put on a much more aggressive character than his usual self, while Ahn failed to leave a strong impression.
“(The debate) may nullify the effect accumulated from the emphasis on a beautiful merger process that had been on ongoing.”
Yoon argued that viewers will most likely make their verdicts after examining how the press judged the debate, then make a secondary interpretation of the night’s performance. It would therefore take some time before how the public opinion has been altered by the 100-minute stage act can be gauged.
“The medium of television yields significant influence on emotions,” said Yoon.
The conservative Saenuri Party was not so patient in its assessment of the debate. “The debate was boring and frustrating,” wrote Ahn Yong-hwan, the party’s spokesperson, in a press release published the next morning.
“The statements were mostly common sense and there were only vague questions and answers. It also showed that both candidates were inadequately prepared as presidential candidates.”
“It was a high quality debate that rarely happens,” said Jin Jung-kwon, a popular liberal pundit. “Who won? It was so close. But it was a model debate. My score is 52:48.” Jin refused to say who earned the higher score.
By Samuel Songhoon Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)