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‘To merge, or not to merge’: Noise on campaign merger continues

People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo (Yonhap)
People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol (left) and People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo (Yonhap)
Talks of a campaign merger of presidential candidates Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party and Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People’s Party continue, despite Ahn withdrawing his initial proposal for merger talks.

On Tuesday, Ahn continued his criticism of Yoon, who “fled” from a proposal to compete in a two-way primary to decide on a unified candidate.

“I made the suggestion to hold a public primary (for a campaign merger) to Yoon. But (Yoon) fled away because he is afraid. If (Yoon) gives up (on his candidacy), I will pursue regime change,” Ahn said during a canvassing event in Busan.

“Even if the regime change is successful (by Yoon winning), we do not need a transfer from one government to another if it cannot bring changes to our livelihood. That would just be a shift from one government of deep-rooted evils to another.”

On Sunday, Ahn held an emergency press briefing to announce that he will no longer consider the option of unifying candidacies with Yoon after Yoon did not respond to his proposal in time.

Ahn had previously proposed to Yoon to merge their campaigns and compete in a primary to let the public decide which of them would ultimately face off against Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea.

Despite the decisive remarks from Ahn, the People Power Party appears to be seeking ways to resume negotiations of a campaign merger with Ahn.

For the main opposition party, it needs to absorb the support base of Ahn to secure a complete victory against Lee, as he and Yoon are running neck and neck.

After Ahn’s proposal, Lee Yang-soo, the senior spokesman for Yoon’s campaign team, released a statement to express understanding of Ahn, while simultaneously appearing perplexed at Ahn’s unexpected announcement.

“We completely understand Ahn’s sincerity (in his merger proposal). We should not disappoint the people who want a shift in power. We ask (Ahn) to make efforts together for the regime change goal,” Lee said.

On Monday, Rep. Kwon Young-se, the top commander of Yoon’s campaign team, also said Yoon’s campaign will “make all the needed efforts for a shift of power.”

There had been under-the-table negotiations between the two campaigns, but those ultimately faltered because “too many people got involved to discuss the merger in too many channels,” a People Power Party official said.

The People’s Party has also expressed displeasure with People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok, who openly has expressed his opposition to the idea of Yoon merging candidacies with Ahn -- standing in contrast to those who support the campaign merger in his party.

“I think Ahn Cheol-soo made the decision (to scrap his merger proposal), seeing the mockery and threats (from Lee Jun-seok),” Choi Jin-seok, the chief standing chairman of Ahn’s campaign, said in a radio interview Monday.

“It would be important to remove the obstacles that are in the way,” Choi added.

Following Choi’s comment, Chairman Lee fired back to blame Ahn for reversing stances again.

“It was Ahn who asked for a campaign merger. It was also Ahn who declared he will not merge campaigns in the middle of the talks. I think he announced that a couple of times in this election race,” Lee said in a radio interview the same day.

When asked about several incidents in which the chairman appeared to make fun of Ahn, Lee said it was not a problem.

“I can make fun of Ahn. Politicians do exchange such mockeries. But (Ahn’s) People’s Party always makes threats with campaign merger proposals. Such action should be rooted out.”

As the party leader remains at odds with Ahn, opinions are divided inside the People Power Party.

One lawmaker from the main opposition expressed concerns over Lee’s continuing confrontation with Ahn, and stressed that Ahn’s support is crucial for Yoon to cement his victory in the presidential election.

“Public polls show Yoon is only slightly ahead of Lee Jae-myung of the ruling party. To make sure Yoon wins the election, he needs to secure at least 10 percentage points more in public polls,” the lawmaker told The Korea Herald.

In a survey by the Korea Society Opinion Institute on Monday, Yoon was in the lead with 43.7 percent support against Lee’s 42.2 percent.

Ahn Cheol-soo came in a distant third, securing 5.8 percent in the poll, followed by Sim Sang-jung of the minor Justice Party, who posted 2.7 percent.

The poll, commissioned by TBS, was conducted with 1,002 adults on Friday and Saturday. 

For more information regarding the survey results go to the National Election Survey Deliberation Commission homepage.

By Jo He-rim (herim@heraldcorp.com)
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