Signs point to Ahn Cheol-soo preparing presidential run

Posted on : 2012-06-01 14:44 KST Modified on : 2012-06-01 14:44 KST
Still no official word from the software mogul, but observers see him as laying campaign foundation
 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

By Kim Bo-hyeop and Son Won-je, staff reporters

Ahn Cheol-soo said he was reflecting on his political future during a May 31 lecture at Pusan National University.

Software entrepreneur Ahn went on to say that he would clearly state his plans once he has decided. “Don’t believe it when someone else says, ‘This is how it is,’” he advised.

People in Ahn’s camp have cited his consistency in words and deeds as one of his strengths. It may very well be the case, then, that he is giving the matter deep thought. He has been doing so for almost a year now.

Ahn has already begun setting the stage for a decision. With his talk in Busan, he presented the basic ideas that would inform his policies, and he recently appointed a media spokesperson. Meanwhile, associates are reporting changes in his behavior. This all indicates Ahn preparing to officially throw his hat in the ring.

Ahn’s past talks, to mainly younger audiences, generally tended to focus on criticizing the unfairness of society and suggesting ways of changing it. But the latest talk was something different: sufficiently fleshed out, expanded, and specified further, the basic ideas about social services, justice, and peace could easily become an election platform. The talk began with an emphasis on welfare before focusing on justice and peace. The last of these was the most noteworthy.

Political experts have cited inter-Korean relations and diplomacy as a potential weakness for Ahn as a presidential contender. In contrast with the high hopes people have expressed about his ideas on political reforms, the economy, and social policy, he is seen as less inspiring when it comes to relations with North Korea.

As a public figure, he is seen as a politically upright entrepreneur who has shared his successes with society rather than keeping them to himself, and who knows how to communicate with the younger generation. But questions linger about his leadership abilities in managing peace on the peninsula. The fact that he presented his views on a range of inter-Korean issues during the lecture and a subsequent question-and-answer session with students indicates that he may be giving some thought to this point.

Also significant is his appointment of former Roh Moo-hyun administration press secretary Yoo Min-young, 45, as his media liaison. Ahn has not given one-on-one media interviews since mulling over a run for Seoul mayor in September of 2011. He announced his plans to endow the Ahn Cheol-soo Foundation at a press conference, and has used public speaking engagements as opportunities to speak his mind.

His preference has been for communicating directly with citizens and voters without going through the press. Just before the Apr. 11 general election, he posted a video on YouTube encouraging people to vote. When it has been absolutly necessary, he has had the public relations staff of AhnLab, his computer security company, staff speak on his behalf, or used Gang In-cheol, an attorney who participated in his foundation’s establishment, as his mouthpiece.

Ahn’s appointment of Yoo as his bridge to the press came on May 25. Though perhaps most associated with the Roh administration, Yoo first became involved in politics as an aide to Kim Geun-tae, the late former adviser to the Democratic Party. He also handled strategy and publicity efforts for Park Won-soon’s mayoral campaign last October.

“If Ahn Cheol-soo were just going to go on as an IT specialist or businessman, that would be one thing, but he’s being asked to present a vision for all the different problems of society, so he’s giving matters a lot of thought,” Yoo said of the emphasis on a peace regime in Ahn’s talk. “He discussed the three main pillars of welfare, justice, and peace because he felt that you can’t find an answer to the tasks facing South Korean society without talking about peace.”

Also bolstering the speculation about an imminent decision from Ahn are accounts from fellow Seoul National University professors who have noted a change in his approach to his “main job.” One of them, who asked to remain anonymous, said Ahn has begun actively participating in events at other colleges and departments not associated with his work at the Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology.

“I got the impression he was getting his relationships in order rather than planning to continue on with his main profession,” the professor said.

Another professor who is close to Ahn said he is unlikely to declare his intentions until his first semester commitments have been completed. “He doesn’t want to leave any black marks or give the media an excuse to criticize him,” the professor explained.

Others close to Ahn said they had the sense Ahn viewed fulfilling his responsibilities as dean would serve as a strong underpinning for a “new beginning.” The first semester schedule ends in late June. This means there may be an answer before long from Ahn.

Politicians and experts were divided in their responses to Ahn’s talk on May 31. Some took a positive view, seeing it as in line with the current reformist/progressive agenda. But some critics said it focused only on a broader discourse and lacked specifics.

From the camp of Moon Jae-in, which is seen as the Democratic United Party’s top presidential prospect, observers called the talk an “tantamount to declaration of candidacy.”

“We have the potential to work together in terms of values and orientation,” a member of Moon’s camp said.

Another adviser said, “Given that it was a thirty-minute talk, he seemed to do a good job of broadly encapsulating the policies of reformists and progressives in his own ‘Ahn Cheol-soo style.’

"Now all he has to do is come up with concrete policy alternatives through a well-intentioned competition before the candidate consolidation," the adviser added.


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