Park’s unified candidacy keeps both ruling, opposition parties wary
The weeklong media hype over Ahn Cheol-soo’s hint at running for Seoul mayor ended up as a litmus test of his popularity and the prevailing dissatisfaction with existing political parties.
Some even say that the 49-year-old entrepreneur-turned-professor has emerged as a potential threat to presidential hopefuls of both the ruling Grand National Party and the main opposition Democratic Party.
As if amused by the throng of cameras and reporters at the nationally televised news conference on Tuesday, Ahn declared his support for civic activist Park Won-soon in the Oct. 26 mayoral by-election.
Ahn’s backing of the opposition contender is expected to have a sizeable impact on opposition parties’ talks to field a single candidate.
Park Won-soon (left) speaks about his plan to run for Seoul mayor as Ahn Cheol-soo looks on at their news conference at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in Seoul on Tuesday. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Teaming up with Ahn has boosted the public recognition of Park, director of the Hope Institute who started the widely inspiring charity venture named “Beautiful Store,” according to Shin Yool, Myongji University professor of political science.
In past media interviews, Ahn has expressed strong criticism of “the political establishment currently in power,” blaming it for failing to give hope to the youth. The former medical doctor who developed the nation’s first antiviral vaccine software and offered it free of charge for seven years wrote a number of books on his life and computer viruses, but has stayed away from politics.
The founder of AhnLab, and now a dean and professor of Seoul National University’s Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, has led lecture tours mainly of provincial universities over the past three years, rising to the status of the most inspiring role model for college students.
A day after Ahn told reporters last Friday that, unlike lawmakers, a mayor could “change many things,” a former ruling party lawmaker and election guru presented himself as a political mentor and strategist for Ahn, saying the chances of his run in the Seoul mayor by-election were more than 90 percent.
Yoon Yeo-joon told a local newspaper, JoongAng Sunday, that he planned to organize a new political group with Ahn, adding that he has long observed Ahn as a potential presidential candidate.
On Sunday, Ahn told an internet news outlet that Yoon was only one of some 300 people whom he could call his “mentors” and what Yoon said was his own thoughts.
The retired politician told the Yonhap news agency Tuesday morning that he had spoken with “solid grounds” as he knew Ahn well, but that his “role” has ended as of this week.
The avalanche of media coverage on the latest chain of events has added to the GNP’s humiliation and agitation ahead of the mayoral vote, as well as the general and presidential elections next year.
Ahn told reporters in front of his home Tuesday that if the GNP “turns itself into a healthy, conservative party that helps solve the troubles of many people,” there is no reason for him not to support it.
He said that his recent remarks critical of the GNP were limited to last month’s debacle involving Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who resigned over his failure to attract enough votes on a free school lunch program.
“I am not an ideologically biased person,” Ahn said.
“In a political system led by two parties, I believe that whoever makes enough efforts to improve it will be supported by the people.”
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org