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Ahn, TV debates rise as key variables

Ahn Cheol-soo
Ahn Cheol-soo
Former presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo is to make an appearance at his campaign headquarters on Monday and possibly clarify his position on how far he will go to assist opposition flag-bearer Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party.

Also with the first television debate among the candidates scheduled for Tuesday, this week is considered crucial in the race between Moon and the Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye.

Ahn’s support is considered crucial for Moon as he vies against his conservative rival for undecided and moderate voters. Ahn’s position is considered equally important for the Saenuri Party as Park finds herself losing ground to Moon who had been lagging behind her.

The latest polls place Park in a narrow lead against Moon that is within the margin of error.

Ahn’s aides said he would be attending the campaign’s disbanding ceremony, which was postponed last week due to protests by supporters against his withdrawal from the race on Nov. 23.

Sources said Ahn was most likely to emphasize the need to gather forces to change the administration, after thanking the campaign members and supporters.

Ahn had withdrawn his candidacy after days of negotiation deadlock with Moon over the unified candidacy rules, instead vowing to “fight as a commoner” for a change of government.

But he has so far remained ambiguous about whether he fully supported Moon, simply relaying through his spokesman last week that his future steps would be dictated by his supporters’ wishes.

It has been reported that Ahn is more likely to help Moon by delivering lectures and commenting on social networking services to an extent that does not violate election law than joining Moon’s campaign team.

For Moon, meeting Ahn face to face is considered crucial to show the former professor’s supporters that they are fully aligned.

The number of swing voters that expanded to over 20 percent of the electorate after Ahn’s withdrawal has shown signs of dropping, as the race became a two-way battle between Park and Moon, observers said.

The two, currently attacking each other through intensified negative campaigning, are to butt heads live on television three times. The National Election Commission has scheduled the official debates for Dec. 4, 10 and 16, to bring in candidates of political parties with at least five seats in the National Assembly. Lee Jung-hee of the Unified Progressive Party will be joining the debate.

“The television debates, which usually have 1 to 2 percentage points of impact on the support ratings, would have little significance if their support ratings differed by around 10-20 percentage points. But because the two are fighting such a close race, the TV debate is likely to play a major role,” said Hong Hyung-shik, president of Hangil Research.

Park and Moon have been attacking each other over the failures of the administrations of President Roh Moo-hyun and President Lee Myung-bak.

Park, as a veteran politician, is preparing to highlight her “preparedness,” while Moon, a former lawyer and presidential chief of staff, is likely to hone in on the public’s dissatisfaction with the incumbent ruling camp.

As for Ahn, observers say he could be eying the by-election next April to bounce back into politics. In an interview with Yonhap News last month, Ahn said, “I think that it would have been so desirable if I had walked this path (of presidential candidacy) after having served as a lawmaker first.”

Some also suggest Ahn will launch a new party on the back of the public’s deep-rooted distrust of the established political parties, which remains his biggest political asset.

By Lee Joo-hee (