Shifting Political Winds in Seoul: The Third Force
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 28, 2011
Summary: In the Seoul, South Korea mayoral by-election, Park Won-soon, a political novice with no party affiliation and no political experience, defeated the ruling party candidate and scored a stunning victory. His campaign paved the way for a joint opposition party challenge in the presidential election. It also proved that Ahn Cheol Soo is a credible challenger to the ruling party in the presidential race. Is there room for a "third force" on Taiwan? The shifting political winds in South Korea provide an interesting basis for comparison and contrast.
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In the Seoul, South Korea mayoral by-election, Pu Yuanchun, a political novice with no party affiliation and no political experience, defeated the ruling party candidate and scored a stunning victory. His campaign paved the way for a joint opposition party challenge in the presidential election. It also proved that Ahn Cheol Soo is a credible challenger to the ruling party in the presidential race. Is there room for a "third force" on Taiwan? The shifting political winds in South Korea provide an interesting basis for comparison and contrast.
Park Won-soon is a lawyer. He has been involved in popular protests for years, He has the same experience as former President Roh Moo-hyun, who committed suicide. He is electable. He successfully united the opposition parties. He persuaded them to nominate a single candidate, He united a number of smaller forces to strike at a single larger force. He reflects the public's aversion to the political establishment, He is the embodiment of new hope. The public expects him to be a herald for reform.
An even more important trend is apparent in next year's South Korean presidential election, one that parallels Park Won-soon's upset victory in Seoul. One of the highest profile candidates is Ahn Cheol Soo, Dean of Seoul National University's School of Integrated Technology. Ahn Cheol Soo also planned to run for Seoul mayor. As soon as he declared his candidacy, his political momentum built rapidly. Voter support made him a shoo-in. But he suddenly announced his withdrawal from the mayoral race and threw his support behind Park Won-soon. Park Won-soon originally ranked fifth among the candidates, with only 3% of the vote. But once Ahn Cheol Soo gave him his blessing, Park Won-soon's momentum built. Other opposition parties were willing to make concessions. The Ahn Cheol Soo whirlwind was the reason for the changing political winds in Seoul.
According to South Korean media analysts, Ahn Cheol Soo's momentum poses a serious threat to the Grand National Party. He abandoned the campaign in Seoul. He did so in order to enter the presidential race. The Seoul mayoral by-election represents Ahn Cheol Soo's masterful restructuring, transformation, and training of South Korea's "third force." Some think that after the Battle of Seoul, an "Ahn Cheol Soo New Party" is in the offing.
Park Won-soon had no political experience. Yet he defeated the ruling party and other opposition parties. He seized the mayorship of the nation's capital. Ahn Cheol Soo is merely a management and research scholar. Yet he instantly amassed enormous political momentum. This reveals the extent of the South Korean peoples' political discontent. South Korea's economic performance in recent years has been impressive. But the wealth found its way into the hands of huge conglomerates. The public is critical of these conglomerates. The lack of opposition parties enabled the ruling party to engage in incessant corruption. This provoked public outrage, That is why the public has powerful expectations about a third force outside the traditional political establishment.
James Soong bills himself as Taiwan's "third force." But any comparison of Soong with Pu Yuanchun and Ahn Cheol Soo is unlikely to be flattering to Soong. Puyuan Chun and Ahn Cheol Soo exploded on the scene. Their faces were fresh. Their images were clean. Their professional reputations were the product of long years of hard work. James Soong has been in politics his entire life. His political record and public image are already fixed. He is a horse of a different color. When a political novice assumes office, he is "tabula rasa." He leaves much to the voters' imagination. This of course includes the possibility of failed expectations. That said, Ahn Cheol Soo has made his debut. He has stunned the nation by taking a wide lead. By contrast, James Soong continues bringing up the rear. This shows that he is not the public's idea of a "third force."
Voters on Taiwan expect little from James Soong. That does not mean Taiwan has no third force. Blue vs. Green confrontation persists. If a third force were to break the deadlock, if Taiwan was no longer caught in this vicious internal power struggle, the public would welcome it with open arms. The problem is that James Soong had a key role in the Blue Camp. He forfeited the opportunity of transcending Blue and Green. On the one hand James Soong offers Deep Blue pro reunification rhetoric. On the other hand he relied on the Green Camp for his petition drive. This was not transcending Blue and Green. This was playing both sides against the middle. As a result, the only role he could play was a destructive one.
The turnout in Seoul was less than 50%. Just how much charisma does Park Won-soon actually command? It must not be over-estimated. Just how long will the Ahn Cheol Soo cyclone last? That must be subjected to the test of time. The public expects much from these political novices, who know how to win people's hearts. They have united the opposition parties, and increased their collective impact. Contrast this with James Soong, who blindly played up his person charisma, The results were just as different. The Democratic Party is the largest opposition party in South Korea. Yet it forfeited the opportunity to nominate its own candidate, and instead supported political novices without any party affiliation. Some ridiculed it for doing so. But when the election results were announced, the excitement within the Democratic Party was palpable, This model for cooperation can now be applied to the presidential election.
The Seoul mayoral by-election was precipitated by Mayor Oh Se-hoon's rash promise to step down over the issue of free school lunches. One person's miscalculation cleared away a thousand layers of political dust. The result was something the ruling party could never have imagined.