By merging with the Democratic Party, Ahn went from an independent lawmaker with a handful of allies in the parliament to the leader of the main opposition party.
However, as his position rose his supporter base thinned, largely due to Ahn backtracking on a number of promises.
While preparing to launch his own party, he claimed that the party would not be a tool for elections and that he would nurture it into a long-lasting alternative opposition party. However, Ahn’s organization merged with the DP even before it launched as a political party.
|New Politics Alliance for Democracy cochairmen Reps. Ahn Cheol-soo (center) and Kim Han-gil (left) attend the party’s general meeting at the National Assembly on Monday. (Lee Gil-dong/The Korea Herald)|
In addition, Ahn ultimately backtracked on the promise to abolish candidate nominations for local elections despite having repeatedly claimed that the nomination system was one of the most fundamental evils in Korean politics.
In a recent survey conducted by a local polling company, Ahn was the fourth-favorite potential presidential candidate for the 2017 election.
NPAD’s Rep. Moon Jae-in, who desperately sought Ahn’s help in his 2012 presidential campaign, ranked first, followed by conservative heavyweight Chung Mong-joon.
Ahn was even outpaced by Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, whose first Seoul mayoral campaign would have failed without Ahn’s endorsement. In comparison, Ahn tied with Moon at 32 percent in a Gallup Korea report compiled in April. In the previous month, support for Ahn outpaced that for Moon by 3 percentage points.
“Ahn being marginalized is not surprising, that was the trend. His presence in the party would have been reduced because the public support (for Ahn) has dropped,” professor Kim Tae-il of Yeungnam University said, adding that influence inside the party is linked with that of the general public.
Kim, however, said that Ahn would not be pushed out altogether and that he would maintain a degree of influence. He added as that Ahn was still being vetted as a politician, there is a possibility that his influence could grow.
“Also, although Ahn is a presidential contender, isolating him would be damaging to the NPAD as a whole, so the opposition party will support him.”
In addition, Ahn’s leadership is receiving mixed assessments from within the party with some judging him to be lacking drive.
“He should do things energetically. Regardless (of factions within the party) he should push things along if he has become a party chairman,” a first-term NPAD lawmaker said.
But all hope is not lost, experts say.
“Two factors will influence Ahn’s position in the future. One is how he deals with the factional fighting that will occur during candidate nominations for the parliamentary by-elections,” said Yoon Hee-woong, Min Consulting’s head of public opinion research. In the July 30 by-elections, as many as 16 parliamentary seats will be contested. At present 14 seats stand empty, and two more could be vacated depending on Supreme Court rulings on Saenuri Party Reps. Sung Woan-jong and Chung Doo-un.
Yoon, added that if developments similar to those surrounding the Gwangju mayoral race recur, Ahn will face difficulties.
In the June 4 local elections, the NPAD picked Yoon Jang-hyun ― a close associate of Ahn ― for the Gwangju mayoral race. Although Yoon went on to win against earlier projections, his nomination prompted a number of key Gwangju figures, including the former mayor Kang Woon-tae, to defect from the NPAD.
“How well he leads the party’s campaign will influence Ahn’s position after the elections.”
By Choi He-suk and Jeong Hunny