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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Feb. 11)

All News 09:08 February 11, 2017

Ample reasons
An Hee-jung's rise should offer lessons to other presidential contenders

There is a conspicuous trend in the presidential race: Two men -- one favored mainly by conservatives and the other by liberals -- are gaining popularity, even at what many have called a "frightening pace."

Latest opinion surveys showed that the support ratings for both acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn and South Chungcheong Gov. An Hee-jung had broken the 15 percent mark, with that of front-runner Moon Jae-in holding above 30 percent.

Ban Ki-moon's decision last week not to seek the presidency is seen helping boost Hwang and An, as many voters who had supported the former UN secretary-general are looking to them.

Of the two, Hwang may well benefit more than An, since Ban's exit left no prominent candidate in the conservative bloc, which, despite Hwang's silence about his presidential ambitions, regards him as its potential candidate.

While Hwang may owe his rise mainly to the lack of a strong candidate representing conservatives, An's surge - he is now running far ahead of his once closest rival, Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung - seems to be more ascribed to his own merits than the departure of Ban.

An's biggest merit comes from the growth of his public image more as a rational, practical politician than an ideologue with unbending views. An, who was a key aide to the late President Roh Moo-hyun, was seen as a liberal to the bone, but he has been demonstrating -- very successfully -- that he is no longer shackled to ideology.

One good example is his position on the planned deployment of an advanced US anti-missile battery in South Korea.

Contrary to his party's demand that Seoul and Washington cancel or delay the stationing of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, An argues that an agreement has been made by the two governments that Korea cannot go back on.

The Democratic Party of Korea and its front-runner Moon Jae-in have called for the reopening of the mountain tours for South Koreans of the North’s Kumgangsan and the restarting of the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial park.

An does not support this position either. The party’s position is certain to go against the UN-led sanctions on the North Korean regime, and An rightfully argues that the Kumgangsan and Kaesong projects should be normalized only when the sanctions are eased upon a change in the North's position.

Welfare is another area in which An does not follow ideological lines blindly. His fellow liberal candidates like Moon and Lee are busy selling "universal welfare programs" highlighted by direct payouts of various cash stipends, whereas An has criticized such programs as no more than "free rice bowls."

As to job creation, Moon recently said if elected, his government would employ 810,000 new public servants. An counters that instead of increasing the number of public employees with taxpayers’ money, the government should support and motivate the private sector to create jobs.

An's position on these and other issues may well be part of his efforts to broaden his support base. Also, all that An says is not wondrous or new. What makes An appealing to the public is that what he says is based on common sense held by a majority of ordinary citizens with unbiased views about politics and ideologies.

An may be losing some of his hard-core liberal supporters by taking such middle-of-the-road stances. But the recent surge in his popularity shows clearly that plus is larger than minus.

It is still too early to predict how the Democratic Party's three-way nomination race among Moon, An and Lee and the eventual presidential election will play out. But the stagnancy of the popularities of Moon and Lee and the surge of An offer good lessons for all candidates -- irrespective of their party and ideological affiliations -- about what they need to do to win voters' hearts.

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