The Korea Herald


Moon-Ahn rivalry laid bare by reform spat

By 조정은

Published : Sept. 15, 2015 - 18:00

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The rivalry between the two former presidential candidates Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo has been laid bare in recent days, as the two have jumped into the fray of a factional fight over the party’s withering reform initiatives.

While the two exchanged messages, including an open letter, and tried to patch things up by arranging a rendezvous later Tuesday evening, the damage seemed to be done as watchers likened the situation to the two’s shaky alliance talks during the 2012 presidential election, as well as the consequent defeat of the opposition’s bid to seize the administration.

Moon Jae-in (Yonhap) Moon Jae-in (Yonhap)

The former and incumbent chairman of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy had been engaging in a fight as to whether or not to put the reform measures to a vote at Wednesday’s executive meeting, each accusing the other of driving the party into another catastrophe in pursuit of political gain.

The NPAD meeting on Wednesday was expected to be critical for both, as Moon wants to consolidate his leadership and silence nonmainstream members who vehemently oppose reform measures.

Ahn seeks to stop Moon’s drive, which could hold back his ambitions to be liberal contender for the next presidential election. 

Ahn Cheol-soo (Yonhap) Ahn Cheol-soo (Yonhap)

The prospects for their precarious relationship remain dim despite their meeting Tuesday, observers say.

“It could defuse mounting tension between the mainstream members and the non-mainstreamers for the time being, but the infighting is likely to continue for a considerable time,” said Yoon Hee-woong, a senior researcher at Opinion Live.

In the latest in a series of verbal battles, Rep. Moon sent a handwritten letter to Ahn on Monday afternoon rebuking Ahn, saying that his demand to delay the party vote on the reform initiatives was “totally incomprehensible.”

In the letter, which Moon posted on his Twitter later in the evening, the chairman stressed that he was pushing ahead with the matter because he believed that it was time for the party to move forward and put an end to the intensifying factional feud by adopting the new nomination rules. “I don’t understand at all, then, what are you suggesting me to do?” he wrote.

“There have been growing voices (within the party) demanding me to resign from the chairmanship for a long time, and the division and the conflict that followed have put our party on hold, making it difficult for all of us to go forward. Then what would be solution to that?”

In apparent retaliation, Ahn held a news conference early Tuesday blasting Moon once again, saying he was missing the fundamental point of the party reform.

“If he pushes ahead with the measures, many people will cast doubts over him and his purpose,” he said. The entrepreneur-turned-lawmaker also said he would meet Moon face to face to settle the matter completely. The lawmaker has been boycotting Moon’s proposal to hold a vote of confidence on his leadership and urged the central committee to indefinitely postpone the Wednesday meeting.

The sour relationship between the two goes back to the 2012 presidential election when they first held negotiations over merging candidacies to fight against then-ruling party candidate Park Geun-hye. After a series of lengthy talks, Ahn gave up his candidacy in the 2012 presidential election to support Moon, the then-presidential candidate for the Democratic United Party, the precursor to the NPAD. Ahn’s “support” however was lukewarm. Though he accompanied Moon on the campaign trail, he mostly remained reserved.

After Moon’s defeat, the two remained at odds. Speculation was rampant that Ahn had demanded Moon join him in founding a new party and give him sole authority in political reform in return for merging the two campaigns.

In early 2014, while Moon was still out of the spotlight suffering his election defeat, Ahn agreed to establish a new political party with then-Democratic Party chairman Rep. Kim Han-gil, thus the party’s new name, its third in as many years. After a short honeymoon period, Ahn offered to resign from his post as cochairman, taking responsibility for the NPAD’s crushing defeat in the following by-election. Moon remained out of the political spotlight until he seized the NPAD leadership earlier this year.

Geum Tae-seop, a lawyer who worked as Ahn’s spokesman during the presidential race, said that despite the dramatic alliance the two sought during the presidential election, Ahn and Moon had remained poles apart.

“Park Kyung-cheol (Ahn’s confidant) had said Ahn and Moon shared a deep connection that other people wouldn’t notice. They also met several times in unofficial settings (offering an impression) that they would work things out,” wrote Geum in a recent book.

“Unlike what Park had said, there was no chemistry between the two candidates,” he wrote.

By Cho Chung-un (