The Korea Herald


Two opposition parties merge. What are Ahn’s next moves?

Ahn expected to create ‘pro-Ahn force’ and run for party leader next June

By Shin Ji-hye

Published : April 18, 2022 - 15:27

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Ahn Cheol-soo (Yonhap) Ahn Cheol-soo (Yonhap)

The main opposition People Power Party and minor opposition People’s Party on Monday completed their merger, 47 days after President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol and the presidential transition committee head Ahn Cheol-soo merged their campaigns during the election.

The center-right People Party, which was created in February 2020 by Ahn after he left the Bareunmirae Party, was in effect absorbed by the larger People Power Party after two years and two months. The name of the party remains the People Power Party after the merger.

The respective leaders of the People Power Party and People Party, Lee Jun-seok and Ahn Cheol-soo, announced the merger at 3 p.m. As Ahn’s father was in critical condition, he headed straight to Busan after attending a meeting of the transition committee’s COVID-19 emergency response committee.

The People Power Party agreed to bear the cost of about 1.7 billion won ($1.3 million), including the People Party’s debt and severance pay for party officials, removing a major obstacle to the merger

The two parties will join forces to nominate candidates for the June 1 local elections. The People Power Party is reported to proceed separately to receive nomination applications for local elections from the People Party.

Kwon said, “The People Power Party has decided to receive additional candidate registration from the People Party for those who want to run in the local elections.”

The merger process of the two opposition parties was not without opposition.

The People Power Party has agreed to receive seven party officials in employment from the People Party, but the party union has grumbled about new employment compensation. The wages of officials in the People Power Party are higher than those of the People Party.

The People Power Party union said the salaries of the officials from the People Party are estimated to increase by 1 million to 1.5 million won per month from the current level. The “unfair acts discourage workers” from the People Power Party, who get various evaluations to raise their salary.

The union issued a statement on Sunday, saying, “If the merger is completed without agreement with the union, we will strongly take all legal measures against the apparent violation of the collective agreement signed in December 2021.”

“It is important to me that (People Party) officials are treated fairly,” Ahn told reporters on Sunday, adding that he believes things will work out after some fine-tuning.

Lee Jun-seok said after the merger announcement, “Details are being discussed. After we confirm with the competence and treatment of the People Party officials, the compensation will be equal or better in line with the party’s standard.”

A floor leader of the People Party is leaving in protest against the merger.

There are three incumbent lawmakers in the People Party, including Kwon Eun-hee, Lee Tae-kyu and Choi Yeon-sook. Kwon has requested expulsion from her parliamentary seat in opposition to the merger. She found it “difficult to accept a return to vested interests.” As she was elected as a proportional representative, she must be expelled from the party to maintain her parliamentary seat.

Attention is now focused on Ahn Cheol-soo’s next moves. Ahn is the former leader and presidential candidate of the People Party and the chairman of President-elect Yoon’s presidential transition committee.

Rumors had spread that he would become the first prime minister of the incoming Yoon Suk-yeol administration. But he dismissed the speculations on April 30, announcing he would return to the party.

He is expected to concentrate on creating a “pro-Ahn force” and solidify his position within the newly-merged party to run for party leader. The election for the party leader takes place in June next year.

Ahn, who is sure to run in the next presidential election in five years, seems to have decided that it is more important to return to the party to build his own power. But he still faces challenges in competing with political heavyweights within the People Power Party.

From early May, when Ahn’s role as transition committee chairman ends, he is expected to play a role in supporting elections across the country for the June 1 local elections.