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[Newsmaker] Ahn announces comeback to politics, says Korea stuck in past

Former presidential contender Ahn Cheol-soo on Thursday announced his plans to return to politics, sending ripples through the political arena as parties gear up for the general elections.

“The world is changing at the speed of light toward the future. Unfortunately, seen from outside, the country remains in the past. A country that does not think about the future has no future,” Ahn wrote on his social media account. 

A file photo showing Ahn Cheol-soo making a speech after being elected as the chairman of the defunct People`s Party in February 2016. Yonhap
A file photo showing Ahn Cheol-soo making a speech after being elected as the chairman of the defunct People`s Party in February 2016. Yonhap

Ahn went on to say that Korean politics have deteriorated since he entered the arena eight years ago and that young people’s and Korea’s future will continue to be “exploited and held hostage” while mainstream parties fight for their own interests.

“Sweeping national innovation and social integration and bold removal of old politics and established powers are needed. That is how we can again have hope,” Ahn wrote, saying the idea that people exist for the advancement of the nation must be replaced with the idea that the country exists for the happiness of the people.

“Now I will return and discuss how to change politics, and how Korea should move toward the future,” Ahn wrote, adding that he will “move into the future with the people.”

While Ahn is once again calling for change, his actions have differed little from other politicians -- founding and merging parties, and stepping down from posts following election defeats.

Since rising to political prominence in 2011, Ahn has played a central role in the founding of three new parties. Ahn’s first two parties -- the New Politics Alliance for Democracy and the People’s Party -- have since disappeared.

The Bareunmirae Party -- the party Ahn was most recently affiliated to -- also appears on the verge of disappearing. Rep. Yoo Seong-min and some of the party’s high-profile members have broken away to establish a group named the “New Conservative Party.”

Like Ahn, Yoo is calling for major changes in politics, saying his new group is the answer to reviving the country’s conservatives.

“In the current situation in which both the progressives and conservatives are in ruins, we are the only political force that can save Korea from crisis,” Yoo said at a New Year’s meeting Wednesday.

Yoo has not ruled out using the tried and tested method of forming alliances or merging with other conservative groups for the general elections in April.

At the meeting Yoo stressed the need for moderate conservatives to draw up a general elections strategy through “mergers or alliances.”

As for allying or merging with the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, Yoo said it remains a possibility as long as his “three principles of rebuilding conservatives” are upheld.

The principles Yoo has put forward are: moving on from the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, seeking reform and a new beginning, which he described as “building a new house.”

The Liberty Korea Party, for its part, is also seeking to become an “alternative” to the ruling bloc by gathering all likeminded groups and individuals under its banner.

A committee for consolidation must be launched soon, said Liberty Korea Party Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn at a press conference on Wednesday. “The first step toward passing judgment on the Moon Jae-in administration is consolidation (of conservatives). Consolidation is justice, and division is injustice.”

As calls for change rise across the opposition bloc, Kim Chong-in -- a former lawmaker who has ties across the aisle -- has voiced views that a “generational change” is needed.

Kim, who has served four terms in the National Assembly, worked on former President Park Geun-hye’s election campaign in 2012 and headed the Democratic Party in 2016.

Speaking on a television program on Sunday, Kim said the time is ripe for new groups and individuals to take center stage.

Saying that Korea’s political climate is similar to that of France when Emmanuel Macron was elected as French president, Kim said that established politicians should be replaced with younger generations.

By Choi He-suk (