To build support, Ahn Cheol-soo turning further to the political right

Posted on : 2017-04-22 14:22 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Conservatives are the swing voters in upcoming presidential election, so Ahn is toughening stances on security and North Korea
People’s Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo speaks at a campaign appearance in front of the Lotte Hotel in Ulsan
People’s Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo speaks at a campaign appearance in front of the Lotte Hotel in Ulsan

People’s Party presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo is increasing his overtures to the right wing by mentioning the possibility of including the conservative Liberty Korea Party in the government and reorganizing the political landscape. By taking on clear conservative overtones such as emphasizing pressure and sanctions on North Korea and a strong alliance with the US, Ahn has moved one step closer to the conservatives who have emerged as the new swing voters in the May 9 presidential election.

During a panel discussion organized by the Korea Broadcasting Journalists Club and held at the Seoul Marina Club in Seoul’s Yeouido neighbourhood, on the morning of Apr. 20, Ahn was asked a question about whether his approach to governance included extending a hand to the Liberty Korea Party. “[Governance] is extremely broad in scope. If I become president, engaging in discussions with other parties will help me create a framework for ideal governance. What is clear is that I will set up a unified cabinet. I will even appoint people from other camps,” Ahn responded. When asked whether he would appoint lawmakers from the liberal Minjoo Party and from the Liberty Korea Party for his own cabinet, he said, “Of course. I will bring on the most talented people even if they’re with other parties.”

This is the first time that Ahn has specified the Liberty Korea Party when referring to a unified cabinet. His remarks are interpreted to mean that he could partner with the Liberty Korea Party and the conservative Bareun Party, which are the former ruling party. “This is not a time to distinguish between progressives and conservatives. Do progressives and conservatives have a different view of justice? I don’t acknowledge such dichotomous distinctions,” he said.

“If I become president, there will be a complete transformation of politics in the Republic of Korea. The current structure and even the number of seats of each party will mean nothing at all,” Ahn said, predicting that there will be a massive political restructuring oriented on the People’s Party.

Ahn seems intent on setting himself apart from Minjoo Party candidate Moon Jae-in in the areas of foreign policy and security, which are of particular interest to South Korea’s conservatives. “In the adversarial relationship between North and South Korea, North Korea is our main enemy,” Ahn clearly stated. This was a clear rebuttal to Moon, who had remarked the previous day that identifying North Korea as the South’s main enemy “is not the kind of remark that a presidential hopeful should make.”

When asked whether he regarded North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as a partner for dialogue, Ahn said, “[Kim Jong-un] is a real headache and unpredictable. I think that the US and China need to play an important role. We need to start by organizing a summit with the US as soon as possible.” At the same time, Ahn distanced himself from the possibility of moving forward on inter-Korean dialogue, such as by holding a summit with the North. “A summit is not the goal. A summit is necessary as a method of resolving the North Korean nuclear program,” he said.

During a speech as the leader of a National Assembly parliamentary group in Sep. 2016, People’s Party leader Park Jie-won said, “We must take the lead in bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula with an inter-Korean summit. Even if it fails, the mere attempt to hold a summit will ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula and help us seize the diplomatic initiative.” Following controversy about Ahn changing his story on the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system, he now appears to be charting an independent course toward the right.

When Ahn ran for president in 2012, he emphasized dialogue, saying that “rising tensions [with North Korea] and threats to peace are things that the people do not want.” But during the debate on Apr. 20, he said that South Korea “ought to have retaliated against the battery that attacked Yeonpyeong Island” and that, if a North Korean ICBM penetrated South Korean airspace, he would “mobilize the Republic of Korea’s defense systems and give the order to shoot down the missile.” Five years ago, Ahn had argued that South Korea should take over wartime operational control (OPCON) of its military by 2015, but on Apr. 20 he said that the OPCON transfer “will be considered and deliberated when our security capabilities are strong enough for us to defend ourselves.”

By Choi Hye-jung, staff reporter

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