On Tuesday, Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, cochair of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, backed down from his demand that the opposition party forgo the selection of nominees for the upcoming municipal elections. Instead, he agreed with his cochair, Rep. Kim Han-gil, to settle the issue through an equally weighted vote of party members and a public opinion poll.
The outcome of the vote and the survey is not yet known. Ahn put on a bold face, professed unwavering opposition to the nomination system and claimed his demand would garner “wholehearted support” from the public and party members.
Yet, one of his loyal supporters in the party denounced him for making a “foolish decision.” Others, venting their anger, said the decision would be viewed as an unfaithful retreat from his promise to push for a ban on party nominations for elections for municipal mayors and municipal council members.
His detractors in the party were no less critical, but for a different reason. They were worried that the public opinion poll would tip the scales in favor of the proposal for a nomination ban. One of them claimed that the public was being drawn into a conflict over an issue that needs to be settled by the party alone.
The ruling Saenuri Party was also critical. It rebuked Ahn for “taking steps to abandon one of his (key) promises as he has done so many times in the past.” Its spokesman said, “As the New Politics Alliance for Democracy can no longer endure an internal revolt, it is now passing the buck to its members and the public.”
When he was making the comment, however, the spokesman forgot that his party was the least entitled to criticize Ahn and the opposition party for seeking to back down from their promise. If his memory served him well, he would have recalled that President Park Geun-hye committed herself to a ban on party nominations during the 2012 presidential campaign, together with her opposition opponent, Rep. Moon Jae-in. Later, Ahn embraced the proposed ban as a key component of the political reforms he was pushing for.
The two presidential candidates promised to ban party nominations because the electorate was disillusioned by frequently disclosed money-for-nomination deals between candidates for municipal governments and the National Assembly.
With the June 4 local elections looming, in which provincial governors and metropolitan mayors will be elected, the ruling party ditched Park’s election pledge because it believed it had more to gain than to lose from the maintenance of the party nomination system. Opposition members of the National Assembly pushed the party leadership to stay the course, apparently because they want to line their pockets and exercise influence on municipal mayors and council members.
Yet, Ahn and his supporters prevailed in their demand for a ban when they established a new party with members of the opposition Democratic Party last month. It would be a major setback for Ahn should the demand be made untenable through being rejected in the vote of party members and public opinion poll. This is why he has to keep his fingers crossed.