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Is Ahn ready to announce bid?

Professor visits symbolic cemetery ahead of  crucial DUP primaries


Popular professor Ahn Cheol-soo is stepping up his game with a series of political moves ahead of the impending announcement as early as next week on whether or not he will join the presidential race.

The expedited moves came as the main opposition Democratic United Party is to elect its final presidential nominee on Sunday.

The former software guru made a surprise visit to the May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju on Friday morning and paid respect to citizens killed during the 1980 democratic movement.

The visit to the symbolic site accompanied by several associates is considered an indication that Ahn has come to a decision about his political debut, observers said.

A day before, Ahn privately met with Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon for about 30 minutes, which was widely considered by observers as part of Ahn’s attempt to overcome his lack of partisan base. Park, too, was an independent candidate, who won his election after cooperating with the DUP and being openly supported by Ahn in last year’s mayoral race.

“(Ahn’s announcement) should be around next week. We are still looking for the right venue and so forth,” Ahn’s spokesman Yoo Min-young told The Korea Herald.

Ahn had said earlier this week through Yoo that he would clarify his position once the DUP’s primary ends.

As the DUP frontrunner Rep. Moon Jae-in seems ready to win candidacy at the final primary, the competition between Ahn and Moon is expected to steepen.
Professor Ahn Cheol-soo pays respect to a victim killed during the 1980 civil uprising at the May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju on Friday. The photo was released by Ahn’s supporters.
Professor Ahn Cheol-soo pays respect to a victim killed during the 1980 civil uprising at the May 18 National Cemetery in Gwangju on Friday. The photo was released by Ahn’s supporters.

Ahn has also been making behind-the-scene approaches to key opinion leaders, such as former Finance Minister Lee Hun-jai for his mentoring and honorary political professor Choi Sang-yong of Korea University for politics.

Lawyer Geum Tae-seop, whose claim last week that a Saenuri official blackmailed Ahn shook up the political circle, is in charge of dealing with negative attacks along with two other fellow attorneys.

Moon’s camp, meanwhile, is also busy recruiting standout progressive figures for its election committee that will be formed if Moon successfully continues his triumph of over 50 percent of total votes, the minimum rate required to avoid a run-off.

Moon will have his fate tested at the last two primaries for Gyeonggi and Seoul electorates on Saturday and Sunday. The two regions have the majority, or around 530,000-large electoral college of the entire 1.08 million.

“At this point, the election tide seems to be in Moon’s favor whereas Ahn’s ratings have entered a more stagnant phase,” Rep. Rhee Mok-hee, co-chief of Moon’s campaign team, told The Korea Herald.

Moon and Ahn, often described by the DUP members as “cooperative rivals,” have run neck-and-neck in their hypothetical two-way race. Recently, the former presidential chief-of-staff slightly surpassed the Seoul National University professor 44.2 percent to 34.5 percent, according to pollster Real Meter earlier this week.

Moon and Ahn’s eventual alliance with one supporting the other as the single presidential candidate has been considered the best possible scenario to win over solid frontrunner Rep. Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party.

The DUP, snubbed by the progressives, has been bittersweet about the need for aligning with Ahn, fearing that the now-independent political novice may overshadow the main opposition party in the presidential election.

Earlier on in his campaign, Moon openly reached out to Ahn, offering him to share the administrative roles if they win the presidential race.

Now, as Moon starts to gain wider support upon his consecutive 11 primary wins, the aides of the DUP rookie are expressing heightened confidence for Moon to seize the initiative.

“What Moon has that Ahn does not is that Moon has the experience of running the country by being the senior member of Cheong Wa Dae, while being supported by a major political party, albeit the fact that the DUP suffers from various criticisms, all of which Ahn does not have,” he added.

“We shall have to see where the public opinion will lean toward after (Moon wins the candidacy) and Ahn declares his presidential bid, and the people get a better chance to discuss their positions during the Chuseok holidays,” he added. South Korea celebrates one of its biggest holidays Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in celebration of the harvest season.

Seoul National University law professor Cho Kuk, who is reportedly sought after by both the DUP’s and Ahn’s sides to join their election committees, said in a radio interview Friday that a harmonious competition between Moon and Ahn will be the key to the opposition forces winning in the presidential election.

“One side yielding the other after the two having it out for each other will be the most beautiful and touching form of alliance and will guarantee a victory (in the presidential race),” he said.

“The worst form of alliance would be by calculating (each of their) percentages in public polls and primaries,” he said, adding that he had high hopes for the two to achieve the alliance down the road.

By Lee Joo-hee (jhl@heraldcorp.com)
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