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[Editorial] Habitual contender

Ahn’s third presidential bid prompted by low voter support for leading candidates

Ahn Cheol-soo, leader of the minor centrist opposition People’s Party, announced Monday that he would run for president in the 2022 election.

It marks the third presidential bid by the software mogul-turned-politician.

Ahn withdrew from the 2012 presidential race to lend his support to Moon Jae-in, then candidate of the main opposition party. He ran again in the 2017 election and finished third with 21.4 percent of the votes. Moon won the election to succeed disgraced President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached earlier in the year for bribery and other crimes.

Declaring his latest bid for presidency in a news conference, Ahn said that, if elected, he would kick-start a new era for the nation, noting voters are disenchanted with the two main parties, which he described as corrupt and incompetent. He also pledged that he would go through a midterm evaluation from voters and that he would step down unless his approval rating exceeded 50 percent.

Despite his emphatic remarks on his possible presidency, questions still linger on whether he will ultimately unify candidacy with other contenders, especially one from the main opposition People Power Party, in the presidential election in March.

In April, Ahn competed with Oh Se-hoon of the conservative opposition party to become the single opposition candidate for the Seoul mayoral by-election but lost to the latter. He then sought for the merger of his party and the PPP, but negotiations between the two sides failed due to disagreements over their relative standing in the envisioned party.

Ahn dismissed the possibility of unifying candidacy with other opposition contenders for the upcoming presidential vote by saying in Monday’s news conference that he would “complete the race.”

What prompted him to make his third bid for the country’s highest elected post seems to be the low voter support for other presidential runners.

A poll conducted last month showed only about 30 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of each of the three main contenders for South Korea’s next presidency.

In the poll of 1,000 South Koreans aged 18 and above, just 32 percent of respondents said they felt favorable toward former Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung, who was nominated on Oct. 10 as the liberal ruling Democratic Party of Korea’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

What might comfort him is the similarly low proportion of respondents having a favorable view of the two front-runners in the ongoing presidential primary of the main opposition party -- former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl and Rep. Hong Joon-pyo. According to the latest monthly poll by Gallup Korea, merely 28 percent and 31 percent of respondents felt favorable toward Yoon and Hong, respectively.

In contrast, an overwhelming proportion of the pollees had an unfavorable view of the three leading presidential contenders: 60 percent for Lee, 62 percent for Yoon and 59 percent for Hong.

Ahn may hope to project himself as a clean and competent alternative candidate. But it will not be easy to bolster voter support for him as his image as a figure representing future-oriented politics has been tainted over the past decade since he entered the political arena. In recent polls of voters, his support rate ranged from 5 to 7 percent.

Still he could have a casting vote on the outcome of the next presidential election by appealing to undecided moderate voters.

Whoever will be chosen as a presidential nominee of the main opposition party Friday will face pressure to join hands with Ahn to win the upcoming presidential election.

Recent polls show a majority of voters want to see a change of government as they are upset with a string of misplaced policies pursued by President Moon Jae-in’s administration and wrongdoings involving Moon’s associates. Such voter sentiment only deepened with suspicions that Lee, the ruling party’s presidential nominee, was implicated in a corrupt scheme surrounding a housing project he oversaw in 2015, when he was the mayor of a satellite city of Seoul.

The problem for the main opposition party is that voter support for its leading presidential contenders hover far below the proportion of voters who hope for a change of power.

Ahn has repeatedly vowed to do his utmost to ensure a change of government through the 2022 election. His ultimate stance on unified candidacy with the People Power Party will show whether he meant what he said.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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