Ahn Cheol-soo calls for campaign merger with Yoon, heads butt over method

Posted on : 2022-02-14 17:23 KST Modified on : 2022-02-14 17:37 KST
The People Power Party’s Yoon Suk-yeol appeared to support the initiative, but not the methodology proposed by Ahn
Campaign buses for People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol (top) and People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo (bottom) can be seen on the campaign trail in Paju and Incheon, respectively. (pool photo/Yonhap News)
Campaign buses for People Power Party candidate Yoon Suk-yeol (top) and People’s Party candidate Ahn Cheol-soo (bottom) can be seen on the campaign trail in Paju and Incheon, respectively. (pool photo/Yonhap News)

Ahn Cheol-soo, presidential candidate for the People’s Party, made an unexpected proposal Sunday to Yoon Suk-yeol, candidate for the People Power Party (PPP), about holding a public opinion poll to determine which candidate should lead a single ticket for the opposition. Yoon said he agrees with the need to combine their campaigns, though he doesn’t favor Ahn’s methodology. The outcome of their ongoing discussion could shake up the presidential race just 20 days out from the election.

“I propose combining the opposition campaigns so that a better administration can come to power — in other words, so that we can bring the old regime to an end and move toward national unity,” Ahn said in a special press conference that was broadcast live on YouTube after officially registering as a candidate on Sunday morning.

“If we jointly announce our governing vision and innovation goals to the public and commit to carrying them out and then decide who will be the unified candidate and who will be the running mate through a national primary in the form of a public opinion poll, we can achieve a resounding victory,” Ahn went on to say.

“We have the poll methodology and text from the previous agreement, so we don’t have to start over from scratch in figuring out how to combine our campaign,” Ahn said, referring to the agreement about an opinion poll that he reached with PPP candidate Oh Se-hoon during the by-election for the mayoralty of Seoul last April.

Ahn suggested polling the public about the appropriateness and competitiveness of the two candidates and adding the scores together to determine the unified candidate, without taking measures to keep ruling party supporters out of the poll.

Yoon, whose preferred approach is to sit down with Ahn and reach a decision about who should lead the united campaign, said he would “think about” Ahn’s proposal, but noted that it had some “disappointing features.”

Yoon made those comments despite telling reporters after a meeting with former US Vice President Mike Pence that he thought highly of Ahn for making this proposal “for the higher goal of bringing a new party to power.”

Yoon indicated that he doesn’t support using a poll to determine who will lead the ticket, but declined to answer when reporters asked what exactly he found “disappointing” about Ahn’s proposal. Yoon seems determined to hold open the door to combining the two campaigns, though he’s not immediately willing to accept the poll approach.

The People Power Party’s campaign headquarters made clear that it rejects the idea of holding a poll.

“Ahn Cheol-soo’s proposal to hold a ‘national primary’ carries the risk of contravening the nation’s desire to bring a new party to power. Considering the big gap in support between Ahn and Yoon, we’re seriously concerned that this could be exploited as a way to promote division in the opposition. That would play into the hands of Lee Jae-myung and the Democratic Party, who don’t want to let a new party come to power,” said Lee Yang-soo, a senior spokesperson for Yoon’s campaign.

Lee explained the party couldn’t accept Ahn’s proposal because of the possibility that Democratic Party supporters would try to spoil the poll.

People Power Party leader Lee Jun-seok repeated the call for Ahn to back Yoon in the election while making a whistle-stop train tour through the Honam region in Korea’s southwest.

“As our candidate initially said, the only way [for Ahn] to create synergy is to make the bold decision as a leader to surrender his candidacy and throw his support [behind Yoon],” Lee said.

While the PPP prefers for Yoon and Ahn to hold talks to hash out an arrangement, some say the party may have to make some concessions if it’s to combine the two campaigns, especially since Lee Jae-myung remains neck and neck with Yoon in the polls.

“It’s true that Ahn is acting in his self-interest by insisting on a poll when he’s so far behind Yoon in the polls. But given all the support for merging the campaigns, I think the negotiations will end in us moving toward unification one way or another,” a veteran PPP lawmaker told the Hankyoreh.

Because of pressure for a unified campaign from opposition supporters who want to see the Democratic Party out of power, the lawmaker said, both Yoon and Ahn will have to make enough concessions to pave the way for a combined campaign.

For now, though, the two campaigns skirmished over the content of a courtesy telephone call that Yoon made to Ahn.

“This afternoon, Yoon Suk-yeol called Ahn Cheol-soo to express his sympathy after learning that Ahn’s wife Kim Mi-kyung had come down with COVID-19 and his hope for her swift recovery,” the PPP said at 6:25 pm on Sunday. Yoon was trying to set the mood for continuing dialogue even though he doesn’t support Ahn’s proposal about combining their campaigns through a poll.

But then 30 minutes later, the People’s Party said, “Today, Ahn Cheol-soo received a text message and phone call from Yoon Suk-yeol. But the only thing they talked about was Yoon expressing his sympathy and concern for the health of Ahn’s wife Kim Mi-kyung; nothing else was discussed. We don’t want there to be any misunderstanding.”

The People’s Party explicitly said that Ahn had received a text from Yoon and spoken on the phone with him, but that they didn’t get into the details of their negotiations for a combined campaign. This shows that sparks are already flying between Yoon’s desire to continue the discussion about combining their campaigns, even if not through a public opinion poll, and Ahn’s insistence that a poll is the only way he’ll agree to combine their campaigns.

Since the two sides have arrived at a general consensus about the need to merge their campaigns, there’s expected to be clashes over how exactly to do so. The PPP and the People’s Party went back and forth over the methodology and text of the opinion poll when they combined their campaigns in the by-election for the Seoul mayoralty last April.

Another challenge is how to divvy up power in a combined campaign. “It won’t be easy to reach an agreement about how to divide the spoils even if Ahn agrees to throw his support behind Yoon,” said a source with the PPP.

Since both Ahn and Yoon finished registering as candidates on Sunday, the first presumed deadline for combining their campaigns is the date when the ballots go to the printers on Feb. 28. The final deadline is early voting, which will begin on March 4.

By Jang Na-rye, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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