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[Newsmaker] Ahn Cheol-soo’s leadership totters

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Published : 2014-04-09 21:01
Updated : 2014-04-09 21:27

The main opposition leader Ahn Cheol-soo and his vision of new politics face an uphill battle in and out of the party as his key proposal to abolish the existing candidate nomination system ran aground without making progress.

The maverick lawmaker along with the party’s cochairman Rep. Kim Han-gil said Tuesday they will conduct a survey and a party vote to decide on the candidate nomination system for the June 4 local election.

The decision was widely seen as an “exit strategy” to curb growing intraparty conflict as well as to avoid further disappointing supporters. Ahn made a rare move as an opposition party leader visiting Cheong Wa Dae last week to request talks with President Park Geun-hye on the issue. President Park, on Monday, rejected his call.
Ahn Cheol-soo (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)

Backing down from its principle of eliminating the system, the party put the issue to a vote on Wednesday to decide whether to stick to it or not. Whatever the result will be, experts say, Ahn’s leadership will be put into question.

“Ahn faces a bumpy road ahead. His leadership was hurt as well as his own will to pursue his vision of new politics,” said Lee Chung-hee, political science professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

With the local elections less than two months away, the fate of the nomination system has become a bone of contention. And not only between the rival parties but also within New Politics Alliance for Democracy, which was launched last month through the merger of Ahn’s followers and the liberal opposition Democratic Party.

The abolishment of the party nomination system was one of the most important causes that made the merger possible. It was a foundation of what they called “new politics.”

But the nomination system issue was keeping opposition bloc tied up, and was too weak to increase pressure against the ruling party. The bigger problem is that the new party was too busy highlighting that it was a presidential pledge that Park failed to keep.

“The opposition party raised the issue by laying the blame at the feet of the president and Saenuri Party. It also made a stark contrast that, unlike them, the opposition will keep their promise. It was too risky, too idealistic,” Lee said.

The party-administered nomination system has been denounced for corrupt links between aspirant candidates and party executives.

Although abolishing the nomination system in local elections was a key political reform pledge of President Park Geun-hye, the ruling Saenuri Party has backtracked, saying it may be unconstitutional.

In contrast, the opposition party has stuck to its promise despite resistance from some within the party who argue that forgoing nominations on its own would give the ruling party an unfair advantage.

But Lee says it will be difficult to get rid of the party nomination system soon.

“Considering its long tradition and impact, it is really hard to eliminate the system in such a short period of time. Maybe, Ahn may have learned about the politics in a realistic sense this time,” Lee said.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com)

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