Ahn Cheol-soo cancels schedule amid row with Yoon’s office
Ahn Cheol-soo, a contender for the People Power Party (PPP) leadership race next month, canceled all of his official activities Monday amid growing friction with the presidential office.
This came after the presidential office indicated its disapproval of remarks Ahn made last week that suggested he has a good “alliance” relationship with President Yoon Suk Yeol and put down a group described as key Yoon loyalists.
PPP Rep. Ahn, a third-term lawmaker and former presidential hopeful, in turn insinuated that the presidential office is intervening in the PPP’s national convention scheduled for March 8, which will elect a new chairperson.
Last Tuesday, as he registered as a PPP chairman candidate for the convention, Ahn said he has a good “alliance” relationship with Yoon, apparently to indicate his solidarity with the president.
Ahn has pitted himself against presidential loyalists such as Chang Je-won and another leading contender for the PPP’s top post, Kim Gi-hyeon, describing the group of close Yoon confidantes using the Korean term “Yoon haekgwan.”
The presidential office did not appreciate the description.
The term was coined by former PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok ahead of last year’s presidential election, amid division within the party between the pro-Yoon faction and those who were not loyalists.
Yoon’s supporters and the presidential office say the term disparages the president and encourages factionalism.
Yoon in turn reportedly told aides that Ahn’s remark about an alliance with him could be construed as “rude.”
On Sunday, Lee Jin-bok, senior presidential secretary for political affairs, expressed the office’s displeasure with Ahn’s description of the so-called Ahn-Yoon “alliance,” noting that the president is not the equivalent of a candidate for party leadership.
“How can he say the president is on par with a candidate,” Lee said to reporters, saying such an expression was “unheard of.”
He said that Yoon indicated he doesn’t want to get “dragged into the race” when notified about the Ahn’s remark.
Lee also criticized Ahn for suggesting that Yoon could be swayed by key loyalists seeking their own personal interests, a suggestion that could be insinuated as a personal attack on the president.
Lee met with PPP leader Chung Jin-suk at the National Assembly earlier Sunday to deliver the presidential office’s concerns and called for a warning against Ahn.
Chung also told reporters Sunday that the “Yoon-Ahn alliance” is a “very inappropriate term,” adding that he believes that “presidential office’s concerns are very valid.”
A presidential official said Sunday that “anyone who tries to gain political advantage by using the expression yoon haekgwan without substantiation will be considered an obstacle and enemy of state affairs in the future.”
Other PPP lawmakers close to Yoon, including Rep. Lee Chul-gyu on Sunday, described Ahn as a “fake” loyalist.
On Sunday, Ahn wrote in a Facebook post that the presidential office is meddling in the PPP’s leadership race and criticized media reports dividing candidates between those who have Yoon’s support, and those who don’t.
He wrote that the “presidential office’s intervention in the [PPP] election is a serious matter that undermines the foundation of democracy and party politics.”
Ahn also appealed to the PPP ethics committee to make sure there were no violations of the party charter in the leadership race.
However, Ahn later backed down from his statements and said in an MBC radio interview Monday that he will refrain from using questionable expressions in the future.
On Monday, Ahn’s aides said that the lawmaker’s public schedule was “adjusted to review the current situation and make political plans.”
Ahn appeared in a prerecorded radio interview Monday morning, but his aides said that all campaign events set for that day, including a visit to underprivileged seniors living alone, an event to distribute food to vulnerable people and a KBS talk show appearance, had been postponed.
Last month, former lawmaker Na Kyung-won, another potential PPP chief contender, abruptly pulled out of the leadership race following a public row with the presidential office. Na was sacked from two presidential posts earlier in January.
With Na out of consideration, PPP Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, a four-term lawmaker seen as a Yoon confidant, and Ahn have emerged as key contenders.
Ahn, a doctor-turned-politician, dropped out of the March 9 presidential race in 2022 as a candidate of the minor People’s Party at the last minute to support Yoon. The People’s Party later merged with the PPP as a result of the alliance. Ahn served as the chairman of Yoon’s presidential transition committee.
The new PPP leader will lead the party in parliamentary elections next year, which will in turn play an essential role in enabling the Yoon administration to carry out its policies smoothly.
Kim in turn visited Na’s residence in Yongsan District, central Seoul on Friday to gain her support, though Na has indicated she is not interested in playing any role in the upcoming convention after bowing out of the race.
Ahn was expected to resume campaign activities on Tuesday.
BY SARAH KIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]