Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo’s anticipated political party is expected to present an independent candidate in the 2014 Seoul mayoral race, escalating concerns over a divided opposition bloc.
With the independent lawmaker and the main opposition Democratic Party likely to support different candidates in the June local elections, a split between Rep. Ahn and the DP seems increasingly inevitable, according to analysts.
The expected split, sources said, would weaken the opposition bloc in the political landscape currently led by the ruling Saenuri Party, which holds more than 50 percent of the seats in the 300-member National Assembly.
Media sources touted Korea University professor Jang Ha-sung, long considered to be a progressive reformist and an Ahn supporter, as a possible candidate for Ahn’s new party in June’s Seoul mayoral elections.
Jang denied the reports on Saturday.
“As Jang said, we have not officially asked him to run for our party in the mayoral elections,” said Geum Tae-seop, a spokesman for the new politics committee, a political panel preparing for Ahn’s new party.
“We will begin in-house talks over choosing a candidate for the (mayoral) elections in the near future. We do not have a specific timetable (as of Sunday),” Geum said.
Geum said the new politics committee would not take into consideration when the Saenuri Party and DP choose their candidates for the June local elections and whom they select. If Ahn decides to put an independent opposition candidate against current Seoul mayor Park Won-soon of the DP, there could be a split in the opposition’s votes, allowing the Saenuri Party candidate to consolidate the conservative votes to grab the Seoul mayorship.
The Saenuri Party holds a comfortable lead over the DP in nationwide approval ratings, with a January Gallup Korea Poll tallying a 41 to 22 percent lead. The ruling party has enjoyed big leads throughout 2013.
In Seoul, the Saenuri Party currently outpaces the main opposition party with a 40 to 18 percent lead.
The same poll, however, predicted that Ahn’s political faction will gather a 32 percent approval rating nationwide if his politics committee transforms into an all-out political party before the June local elections. Gallup expected the Saenuri Party to fall to a 35 percent approval rating, only 3 percentage points ahead of Ahn’s party. The DP would fall to as low as 13 percent nationally, according to the polling service, while Ahn’s new party would trail the Saenuri Party by only 2 percentage points in Seoul, 34 to 36.
Voter response was mixed. “(Ahn) seems to be showing us a new alternative, but I’m not sure if he is the answer,” said You Soo-sun, a 22-year-old Seoul voter.
“I don’t like Ahn. I don’t understand what he means by ‘new politics’ and what’s different between his party and the DP. All he’s doing is splitting the opposition votes so that the Saenuri Party can win in the local elections,” said Jung Min-seok, a political science major at Sogang University.
Rep. Ahn has had a symbiotic relationship with the DP for much of his political career. Ahn yielded the opposition camp’s presidential candidacy to DP Rep. Moon Jae-in during the 2012 elections while also conceding the Seoul mayor candidacy to Park Won-soon in the 2011 by-elections.
By Jeong Hunny (firstname.lastname@example.org)