Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, who ran as one of the major candidates in the 2022 presidential election, on Tuesday vowed to stay in the ruling People Power Party's leadership race.
Ahn denied reports that he may bow out before the March 8 party convention, where new leaders are due to be elected. His main rival, Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, is believed to be backed by President Yoon Suk Yeol.
“I’m definitely not dropping out. I’m winning in the polls,” he told reporters after delivering a speech at the first policy conference held at a venue in Gangseo-gu, a western district in Seoul.
On Monday, Ahn canceled all of his public appearances scheduled for the day after a clash with the presidential office over the weekend. Late Sunday, a senior Yoon official called into question Ahn’s use of the term “key pro-Yoon figure” to describe his rival, Kim. On Ahn claiming the presidential office was “influencing” the party’s race, the Yoon official said that was “completely untrue and misleading.”
Kim, also speaking at the policy conference on Tuesday, said that he was a “People Power Party man through and through” in an apparent slight aimed at Ahn, who switched parties in April last year after dropping out of the presidential race to support Yoon.
Kim also announced he was joining hands with Na Kyung-won, the four-time lawmaker who withdrew her bid for the party chairperson two weeks ago despite leading the polls. Na’s dropout came after weeks of clashes with the presidential office, which openly disapproved of her bid for the party chairpersonship.
In the latest polls among People Power Party supporters, Ahn has consistently trumped Kim by 10 to 20 percentage points.
Other high-profile headliners in the ruling party race include Rep. Tae Yong-ho, the former North Korean diplomat and defector. Tae, who is running for a seat on the supreme council -- the party’s top decision-making body -- would make history as the first North Korean defector to hold a leadership post at a South Korean political party if elected.
Speaking to reporters at Tuesday’s policy conference, the elite defector-turned-lawmaker said he believed he could better assist the Yoon administration’s North Korea and security policies as a member of the ruling party’s supreme council.