By Lim Suk-kyoo, politics editor
The interview date was set abruptly, coming just after negotiations toward a single opposition candidate were temporarily called off between Ahn Cheol-soo’s camp and that of the Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae-in. The situation was tense: at 1 pm on Nov. 15, Moon was holding a talk with reporters in Changwon, South Gyeongsang province, just as the independent candidate was sitting down for the interview in the sixth floor conference room of the Hankyoreh’s offices. Ahn seemed at ease -- when asked about the method for deciding a candidate, he responded, “Yesterday, I could have told you. . .” -- but his expression turned stern and his lips tightened slightly when he talked about the reasons for the breakdown in the talks. Referring to recent rumors, he said, “I have absolutely no intention of bowing out.”
Hankyoreh (Hani): Could you explain why Ahn Cheol-soo should be the president?
Ahn Cheol-soo (Ahn): There are three things we need right now if we’re going to fix the problems facing our country. We need to be able to read the global currents, we need horizontal leadership, and we need to be able to make appointments based on ability, without concerns about political indebtedness. I became convinced I could do this well if elected.
Hani: The Saenuri Party said that if you are the eventual opposition candidate, they could just attack you as an “amateur.”
Ahn: People know all about [my lack of experience in politics], but the support has stayed strong for over a year now. The public wants a new era, and they think the experiences of the old guard could be bad for opening up a new era.
Hani: It seems that you’ve got two groups in your support base, the people who mostly want the Saenuri Party out of power and the people who mostly want a change in the political environment.
Ahn: I appreciate how much people want something different from the current party in power. But we’re not going to beat the Saenuri Party with that support alone. The people who want a change in administrations will need to make that happen through political solidarity with the many people who want political reform. I hope they can see it that way.
Hani: Among the ideas for political reform you’ve mentioned, I recall things like reducing the number of seats in the National Assembly, cutting the members’ authority, and campaigning to reduce tuition rates by half. What is the core of political reform to you?
Ahn: [What you mentioned] were specific examples. Politicians have lost the people’s trust; nobody believes them when they say they’re going to do this or that. My idea for restoring trust involves politicians showing their genuineness by letting go of their privileges. And with things supposed to be very rough next year, we could see calls for spreading the suffering around a bit. Nobody’s going to listen to the politicians when they haven’t made a single concession. I decided it would be best to show that kind of thing ahead of time.
It‘s been very frustrating to see people saying things like, “Politics today needs more strength.” Strength doesn’t come from authority, it comes from the backing of the public. If the opposition wins [the presidency], then they’ll come into an opposition majority, and they’ll need a lot of support from the public to overcome that. Increase [politicians’] authority, and you’ll never break through. I think they’re reading things wrong.
Hani: You said an independent could be president. If you’re elected as an independent, then you wouldn‘t have any ruling party presence at all in the National Assembly.
Ahn: If I do become the final candidate and go on to win the presidency, then the Democratic United Party will be a strong partner in governance.
Hani: The DUP is hoping that if you do become the candidate, you’ll join their party. . .
Ahn: The main premise here is that we need political reform to bring about a change in administrations. That goes for the decision on a final candidate, too: if we don’t show a new form of politics, there won’t be any new politics even if we do come to power.
Hani: Some reports have said you would create a new party with the DUP and your own supporters after the decision.
Ahn: I’m not thinking about [after the decision]. If we get a candidate with a solid support base from a unified public, then we’ll need to look at the situation then and figure out what needs to be done for a victory. It’s not a good idea to set the terms now.
Hani: The team doing the preparations for the joint statement on a new politics [between Ahn and Moon] agreed to guarantee authority for the Prime Minister according to the Constitution. Some have suggested that the enhanced prime ministerial powers would be a way for the two of you [candidates] to divide up the positions of President and Prime Minister.
Ahn: There are a lot of ills that result from the concentration of powers with the President, and the goal there was to resolve that situation. We may be able to hash things out during the election process once someone has been settled on as a final candidate, but I’ve never said anything about that.
Hani: What are your thoughts on Moon Jae-in?
Ahn: I read his book “Destiny.” I was impressed with the parts where he talked about his dedication to the democracy movement.
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