The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] From IT geek to ‘iron man’: Ahn’s makeover

By Korea Herald

Published : April 6, 2017 - 15:14

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Having transformed from a medical doctor to computer virus vaccine developer, venture entrepreneur, professor and eventually politician, Ahn Cheol-soo’s entire life has been a series of identity changes.

Preparing for his second bid for the Korean presidency this year, Ahn apparently sought to make another significant change in his public image -- this time by altering his oratorical tone and way of speech. His sudden vocal transition, despite mixed reactions, certainly fixed the spotlight back on the runner-up centrist candidate ahead of the main race.

Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party (Yonhap) Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party (Yonhap)

“Will you all join me in my path to victory?” Ahn shouted in a thundering voice Tuesday upon being confirmed as the candidate for the People’s Party in the upcoming May 9 presidential election.

His speech startled audiences across the nation, who could no longer associate the businessman-turned-politician with his former signature scholarly image and diffident tone.

Ahn’s career in information technology and academia has long been a double-edged sword for Ahn’s political ambitions.

His voice was relatively high-toned, often lacking the tenacity or pugnacity required for powerful political speeches.

Such features, combined with his repeated submissions in key races, created the image of a man lacking the willpower to stand firm against challenges, as his name Cheol-soo also happens to signify in Korean language. Though Cheol-soo is a popular Korean name, it can also mean “withdrawal.”

Ahn first stepped into politics in 2011 as a potential candidate in the Seoul mayoral election, but gave way to liberal contender Park Won-soon before announcing his bid. He returned later in 2012 as a presidential aspirant but once again gave up his race in mid-way, with less than a month remaining to the Dec. 19 election.

The fact that he kept quiet on rampant speculations as to his candidacy for several months before making the big announcement that year was also taken as a sign he was not so much a man of action, but of “thoughts.”

With his renewed character, however, Ahn did not hesitate to fling down the gauntlet directly to Moon Jae-in, his once-political partner who is now the presidential front-runner, from the Democratic Party of Korea.

“The time of Ahn Cheol-soo has arrived. Gone are the days of Moon Jae-in. Gone are the days of hegemony,” Ahn said, claiming himself as the only eligible candidate to achieve a change of government power and national unity.

He also constantly shouted for the audience’s applause and cheers in a declamatory tone and gesture.

“I, Ahn Cheol-soo, have become a million times stronger from who I was back in 2012. ... Can you feel it, people?” he exclaimed at the end of his candidacy acceptance speech.

Skeptical observers suggested that the new personality of his could be but a temporary gesture to create drama at the party convention in which he officially kicked off his presidential race as the elected candidate of the party.

But Ahn has been determined to keep up his new public image as an iron-willed, strong-worded, uncompromising presidential aspirant.

“Many point out the change in my tone,” Ahn told reporters in a press conference after clinching his candidacy, though no related questions had been asked on the issue.

“If I am unable to change myself, how may I possibly change a country?”

He made it clear the drastic change was his own decision and action.

“I, too, wondered (about the change of tone), so I asked him,” said party Chairman Rep. Park Jie-won, who is also the most powerful in-party aide for Ahn.

“As a former doctor and scientist, Ahn does a lot of research. Just as he researched and developed a computer vaccine, he acquired (his new way of speech) all on his own.”

Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party (Yonhap) Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party (Yonhap)

Ahn’s new way of speech, especially the artificial low-tone and growling impression, immediately triggered backlash from the rival Democratic Party, as well as from a large portion of the public.

“(Ahn’s tone) is totally awkward, just like an unfitting outfit or insincere laughter,” said Jung Chung-rae, a former lawmaker known for his radical expressions and eloquent speeches.

“One does not become any stronger just by shouting.”

But despite the criticism, Ahn’s support rating soared in the day following his victory in the party primaries. A survey conducted and released by local pollster Realmeter showed him garnering 34.5 percent of respondents’ support, catching up closely with Moon’s 41.3 percent.

Along with his vocal change, Ahn has also altered his appearance by combing his hair back to expose his forehead and rolling up his shirt sleeves during landmark speeches -- all seen as gestures to create a strong, masculine and confident public image.

By Bae Hyun-jung (