Days after quitting the presidential race, Ahn Cheol-soo looms large over the electoral landscape.
The former independent candidate still remains the most important variable in a tight race between the ruling Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye and the main opposition Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae-in.
Ahn’s election camp was to disband on Tuesday afternoon but hurriedly called off the ceremony, citing security reasons.
“We judged that more time was needed until the supporters overcome their sense of loss over Ahn’s resignation,” spokesperson Yoo Min-young explained on Monday.
He was referring to the series of protests staged by disappointed Ahn fans, especially a suicide attempt which had taken place earlier in the day.
A twenty-something man threatened to jump off the roof of the building neighboring Ahn’s election camp, demanding that Ahn return to the race and that Moon step down as candidate. He was deterred by the police.
The young man’s actions reflected Ahn loyalists’ frustration and wide-spread belief that Ahn was the victim of a political scheme by the DUP.
The postponement of the disbandment ceremony frustrated Moon and the DUP, as it meant a delay in action by Ahn in support of Moon, who badly needs the popular former professor’s help.
As the official 22-day campaigning period kicked off on Tuesday, Moon trailed Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye in opinion polls.
When Ahn declared his withdrawal Friday, he pledged to serve humbly for their joint campaign to change the government. But he has since been out of public view.
Many attributed his temporary leave to the fatigue of his tug-of-war with Moon.
“Ahn expected Moon to be different from the rest of the pro-Roh Moo-hyun faction or the DUP, but ended up disappointed,” said a key official of the camp.
Such signs of discord between Moon and Ahn are expected to greatly sway swing voters, who have grown in number since Ahn’s withdrawal.
Experts, too, were either concerned or skeptical.
“The DUP should first display its determination to embrace Ahn’s vision of political reforms, before forming a joint election committee,” said Kim Hyung-joon, a politics professor at Myongji University.
However, another Myongji professor, Shin Yul, said that Ahn’s decision to quit marked a rupture in the candidacy unification talks and that swing voters were more likely to move over to Park than Moon.
Though the nuance of views varied, most agreed that the DUP is in for a hard fight against the ruling conservative camp.
“Under the given circumstances, we cannot expect the dramatic synergy which was observed in the candidacy merger back in 2002,” said Lee Cheol-hee, director of Dumun Political Strategy Institute.
“The indecisive voters will nevertheless change their stance up to a certain point, depending on the level of support that Ahn displays for Moon.”
According to Ahn’s aides, the former candidate is to make his next move within the week, once again pledging to work for political reform and government change.
He is also expected to suggest a political roadmap, displaying the determination not to lose his initiative while cooperating with the DUP and Moon’s campaigns, as he earlier promised.
“Candidate Moon has delivered a courteous message to Ahn, inviting him for a one-on-one meeting as soon as possible,” said an official from Moon’s camp.
Amid efforts to engage Ahn and his supporters, Moon also tried to pacify liberal voters in the southwestern Honam region.
The area has long been a political stronghold for the liberal party but a considerable part of the electorate shifted to Ahn, who had seemed to be a valid political alternative.
“I will succeed to Ahn’s vision for political reform and realize it by all means,” Moon said during his visit to Gwangju on Monday.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org