[Newsmaker] Ahn, an ‘oddball’ with a penchant for change

By Korea Herald
  • Published : Apr 26, 2017 - 14:43
  • Updated : Apr 26, 2017 - 17:42
People’s Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo is something of an oddball in the country’s political arena.

In a National Assembly dominated by lawmakers with a background in legal professions, civil service or civic activism, Ahn was one of a handful with a medical background.

His entry into the assembly was highly unusual. While many spend years, if not decades, in politics for an opportunity to make an attempt at the presidency, Ahn was first a presidential contender then a lawmaker, running as an independent.

People’s Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo (Yonhap)

Ahn’s history before he was in the public eye is just as unusual.

Born to a physician father in 1962 in Busan, Ahn followed in his father’s footsteps and studied medicine at the Seoul National University. However, he found fame not in medicine but in computer antivirus programs. In the late 1980s, when he was studying for a doctorate in medicine, Ahn developed an anti-virus program to remove malware from his computer. The program was to be the foundation of Ahn’s fame and fortune.

By the mid-1990s, Ahn had founded a company that grew into the computer security firm AhnLab -- the source of Ahn’s fortune currently valued at over 100 billion won ($88.9 million).

This unusual career change later led to his being named the dean of SNU’s Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology.

Ahn, who went from medical doctor to software entrepreneur and educator, then jumped into politics.

His penchant for change has also shone through in his political career.

He shot to political stardom during the 2011 Seoul mayoral by-election without little real connection to the political arena at the time. Despite his lack of political career and connections, Ahn was the subject of strong popular support in the race.

Despite approval ratings reaching around 50 percent at one point, Ahn chose to endorse current Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, and he appeared for a time to be shelving his supposed political ambitions.

About a year later, on Sept. 19, 2012, Ahn declared his presidential bid as an independent candidate, and quickly gained status rivaling that of Moon Jae-in of the then-main opposition Democratic Party.

During his 2012 presidential campaign, he developed the idea of “new politics.”

Ahn did not see his campaign through, instead merging his campaign with that of Moon. But unlike his campaign, his slogan of new politics survived and formed the basis of the New Politics Alliance, a party-like political grouping that Ahn claimed would be instrumental in overhauling the country’s political arena.

Before the organization could take off, however, it merged with the Democratic Party to form the New Politics Alliance for Democracy in March 2014. Ahn briefly took the helm in a co-chairmanship with Kim Han-gil, but resigned after the party’s defeat in the by-elections of July 2014.

By the end of the following year, Ahn had left the party and founded People’s Party. In doing so, Ahn allied with a number of lawmakers considered nonmainstream in the Democratic Party of Korea including Rep. Park Jie-won. Park is a close associate of late President Kim Dae-jung, and was once one of the most vocal critics of Ahn.

By Choi He-suk (