Published : 2013-03-05 20:23
Updated : 2013-03-05 20:23
Former presidential hopeful Ahn Cheol-soo’s decision to run for a parliamentary seat in April signals that the software entrepreneur-turned politician has started to position himself to take another shot at the presidency ― this time using a different approach.
Ahn, 51, founder of AhnLab, Korea’s largest anti-virus software company, had no political experience to speak of when he announced his independent candidacy last September.
The hugely popular businessman could have become a lawmaker had he chosen to run in the general election in April. His aides, in fact, advised him to become a legislator first if he had any presidential aspirations.
But Ahn, at the time dean of the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology at Seoul National University, did not follow this advice.
Later, he tried to make his lack of political experience one of his strong points. He argued that he would be the ideal person to push for bold political reforms because he was not tainted by unsound political practices.
Ahn’s bid for the April 24 by-election, announced through an independent lawmaker close to him, indicates he has jettisoned this self-serving logic. He made the right decision, given that the task of reforming politics requires some experience as a lawmaker.
At the same time, it also suggests Ahn has chosen to pursue his presidential ambition through a political party. In the previous election, Ahn’s independent candidacy allowed him to freely attack existing political parties, helping him muster support from voters who were sick and tired of partisan gridlock.
But Ahn was obviously in a dilemma. He needed a political party of his own to conduct his campaign in a more organized way. But he could not push for one because doing so would have left him tainted by party politics.
Yet the lack of backing from a powerful political party was the main factor that forced Ahn to drop out of the presidential race. He was under severe pressure from the main opposition Democratic United Party to bow out and declare his support for Moon Jae-in, the party’s candidate.
In this regard, it is hardly surprising if Ahn decides to promote his own political party. Given his painful experience last year, doing otherwise would be surprising.
To build a party, Ahn should first secure a parliamentary foothold. If Ahn wins the by-election, which is highly likely, he is expected to launch the process to set up a party.
It is too early to predict whether Ahn will be able to set up a viable political party or not. He no longer enjoys the same degree of popularity as before. A major test will come in October when by-elections will be held for some 20 parliamentary seats, much more than the three at stake in April.
If Ahn successfully builds a broad-based national party, it would reshape the nation’s political landscape. But even if he fails, his drive itself is expected to spur reforms by the existing parties.
Ahn’s return to politics is hardly good news for either the ruling Saenuri Party or the main opposition DUP. Ahn’s participation will up the ante in the April by-elections, which are seen as the first test of President Park Geun-hye’s leadership. But the prospects for the Saenuri Party are not bright as ruling parties have traditionally fared badly in by-elections.
Ahn’s return to politics is even more embarrassing to the DUP as it could be a prelude to a reconfiguration of opposition political forces. It will have to brace for Ahn’s attacks while at the same time fending off his attempts to lure lawmakers.
In a sense, the two parties have jointly set the stage for Ahn’s early comeback. Since the Dec. 19 presidential vote, they have made little progress in reforming politics, thus giving Ahn a chance to renew his call for drastic political change.
Ahn has again demonstrated his good sense of timing by announcing his comeback at a time when people’s patience with the stand-off between the two parties over Park’s government reorganization proposal has reached its limit.
The two main parties should take Ahn’s return as a warning that they will be consigned to irrelevance if they continue to ignore the will of the people. For his part, Ahn should act as a catalyst for political reform.