Ahn Cheol-soo doesn’t want to be prime minister – so what exactly does he want?

Posted on : 2022-03-31 17:25 KST Modified on : 2022-03-31 17:42 KST
Some observers say Ahn is hoping to expand his influence within his party in consideration of running for president in 5 years
Ahn Cheol-soo, who chairs President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition committee, speaks to reporters from the office of the committee in Seoul’s Tongui neighborhood on March 30. (pool photo)
Ahn Cheol-soo, who chairs President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition committee, speaks to reporters from the office of the committee in Seoul’s Tongui neighborhood on March 30. (pool photo)

Ahn Cheol-soo, who is currently serving as the chair of President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition team, announced Wednesday that he will not be serving as the incoming administration’s prime minister, leading observers to predict that he will return to his party upon finishing his activities with the transition team in order to work on securing his political base.

Ahn met with reporters at the press room of the presidential transition committee’s office in the Tongui neighborhood of Seoul, where he stated, “Providing the next administration with a blueprint and directions pointing to the right picture as head of the transition team without directly participating in the administration’s cabinet would be the way to lessen the burden shouldered by President-elect Yoon.”

Previously, Ahn met with Yoon on Tuesday and conveyed to the president-elect that he will not be serving as the prime minister of the incoming administration.

Ahn explained, “I thought that it would be better to open up a space where the president-elect can act upon his will [. . .] I told President-elect Yoon to find someone who aligns with the direction he wants to take government administration, so that he may realize his vision.”

When asked whether he made any recommendations to Yoon on who he should appoint as prime minister, Ahn answered, “No. I told [Yoon] that instead of me taking upon the prime minister position directly, the president-elect himself should find someone suitable who fits with his vision for government administration, so that he can really act upon his vision.”

Ahn’s announcement that he will not be joining the incoming administration’s Cabinet and instead will be returning to his party was most likely prompted by his intention to strengthen his fragile support base within his party in order to stake out an advantage in the next presidential election. Observers say Ahn has taken into consideration the possibility that he may run for president five years later, for which he has come to the conclusion that he needs to expand his influence within his party rather than gain experience as a government administrator.

Others also say that Ahn’s decision may have been influenced by his reluctance to get rid of his shares in AhnLab, the software company he founded. In order to serve as prime minister, Ahn would have to completely dispose of his stocks worth billions of won that comprise 90% of his assets, which would pose realistic difficulties.

Some within the People Power Party (PPP) commented that Ahn may have come to the decision due to the strong possibility that the current ruling party would veto him as prime minister, and the fact that serving in the role would not provide him with opportunities to differentiate himself with Yoon. A prominent PPP lawmaker said, “It’s evident that [Ahn] would be vetoed by the Democratic Party, with whom [he] has ill feelings due to the opposition campaign merger, so why would [he] choose that path?” They went on, “If [he] is after the next presidency, [Ahn] must have concluded that gaining predominance within his party is a wiser move than becoming prime minister, a position that’s hard to differentiate from the president. No South Korean president so far previously served as prime minister.”

Plus, by declining to serve as prime minister, Ahn may be able to stake out a greater share in his joint government with Yoon, such as through ministerial roles. Ahn stressed during a COVID-19 emergency response special committee briefing, “With the public as witness, we promised a joint government. In that spirit, I plan to recommend ministerial candidates in fields I have expertise in.”

Once the merger between the People Power Party and the People’s Party is finalized, Ahn will become the leading presidential contender of the ruling party for the first time since he entered the world of politics 10 years ago. Ahn said, “The objective reality is that the public is currently incredibly disappointed in both the current ruling and main opposition parties.” He emphasized that “efforts should be made to ease such issues,” and that he will be the one making such efforts.

Now that Ahn has formally expressed his intention to focus on party affairs, how party dynamics will shift moving forward is drawing great interest. First and foremost, Ahn will have to work side by side with PPP leader Lee Jun-seok, a competitor of Ahn with whom Ahn has had a strained relationship. Some say that after merging their parties, Ahn and Lee may run the PPP as co-leaders and even serve as co-campaign chiefs for the local elections scheduled for June 1.

Ahn said, “Since Lee’s tenure as party leader ends next year, I’m not considering challenging [his leadership] right now.”

Still, he left the possibility of running for the party leader position next year open.

“One year is a long time period. Many things will happen in the interval. Therefore, I’ll make my decision around that time,” Ahn said.

By Bae Ji-hyun, staff reporter

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

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