Former independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo joined Democratic United Party presidential candidate Moon Jae-in on the campaign trail for the first time Friday in Busan.
The two stood before thousands of citizens at the underground square of Lotte Department Store in Seomyeon, waving as the spectators cheered on.
“Ahn and I come here together before you. We have become one. We have decided to gather forces and by all means accomplish the administration change, and will continue to closely cooperate for new politics even after the presidential election,” Moon said, asking the supporters to give Ahn a round of applause.
DUP candidate Moon Jae-in (left) and Ahn Cheol-soo raise their arms at their first joint campaign event in Busan on Friday. (Yonhap News)
Ahn then took the microphone and said, “I am well aware of how big the desire for new politics is. I will do my best to realize new politics.”
While Ahn and Moon made their first joint efforts, Park spent the day in Seoul, hoping to win over swing voters in the capital. The Saenuri Party, however, did not neglect the southern port city, sending Reps. Chung Mong-joon and Lee Jae-oh ― two leading party figures with no allegiance to Park within the party.
Although details of the progressive coalition’s campaign activities are not yet known, Moon and Ahn are considered likely to implement a flexible strategy in which two men conduct separate events, but joining forces when needed.
In promoting his campaign in Jeju and Busan, Moon emphasized Ahn’s recent declaration of support to the fullest, repeatedly emphasizing the “completion” of the progressive coalition.
In addition to Ahn, about 30 officials from his disbanded election camp are to serve supporting roles, as the former independent candidate tries to shore up the DUP campaign.
Saenuri Party candidate Park Geun-hye dances with campaign supporters at a market in southern Seoul on Friday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)
The Saenuri Party, meanwhile, continued to denounce their reunion as “insincere,” questioning the background behind Ahn’s “sudden change of heart.”
“We would like to ask whether Ahn helping Moon is voluntary ... whether Ahn’s version of new politics was solely for administration change ... and whether Ahn believes Moon is implementing political reform as demanded by him,” said Saenuri Party senior vice spokesman Kim Geun-sik.
He also demanded that Ahn clarify his position on a potential plan for a joint administration with Moon, and on his reported comment earlier that he stood ideologically distant from Moon.
Political observers suggested that Ahn decided to come to Moon’s rescue upon the DUP flag-bearer’s promise to adopt some of Ahn’s key political reform proposals, such as reducing the number of lawmakers, and as the liberal bloc’s support ratings continued to decline against Park’s.
Ahn declaring his support for Moon is hoped by the liberals to bring as many as one-third of the swing voters behind the DUP candidate for a dramatic ratings turnaround in the run up to the Dec. 19 election.
According to experts, swing voters currently account for about 10 percent of the voters, and that more than half of those are former supporters of Ahn. According to the pollster Realmeter, Moon’s approval rating rose 0.7 percentage points to 42.8 percent after Ahn declared his full support for the DUP candidate on Thursday.
With the change, the gap with Saenuri Party’s Park narrowed to 6.1 percentage points in a seven-way race.
In a two-way scenario, where Moon and Park are competing only against each other, Moon’s approval rating came in at 45.3 percent, rising 0.2 percentage points from the previous day when Ahn’s support was still ambiguous.
In comparison, Park’s rating dropped by 0.6 percentage points over the same period to 49.5 percent.
“Moon and Ahn’s beautiful partnership has begun,” co-chief of Moon’s election committee Kim Bu-kyum said.
“This partnership is a partnership for opening the chapter of new politics in the history of Korean politics, and it will be the first step in reviving the livelihoods of the public who have lost hope.”
However, Ahn’s decision to support Moon was not without opposition.
As Ahn joined Moon in Busan, nine former communications advisers including Cho Yong-kyung issued a statement refusing to join the Moon-Ahn coalition.
“As we watch the once-gushing ‘Ahn Cheol-soo effect’ fading away, we cannot participate in the so-called ‘Moon-Ahn alliance’ Ahn has chosen,” Cho and the others said in the statement.
“We express again with heavy hearts that we can’t accompany Ahn on the political path he has chosen.”
The statement went on to say that Ahn’s choice was did not support a political reform drive, and focuses only on bringing about change of administration. Ahn’s former advisers also said that the decision to support a candidate with whom he has “ideological disparity” raised concerns for Ahn’s political career.
By Choi He-suk (email@example.com)