Ahn to the Next

In Korea, there is such a thing as a free lunch.  Sort of.  For children. In school (where Korean children are often known to be found).  And that free lunch can determine the course of political careers in the nation’s capital:  last month the mayor of Seoul, Oh Se-hoon, resigned his officeafter failing to block an opposition-led free school lunch program in the city’s first-ever referendum.

Seoul will have an election on October 26 to choose a new mayor.  Mr. Oh had served 14 months of his second four-year term after winning re-election last year.

Mayor Oh was attempting to follow the Lee Myung-bak/GNP playbook for political success:  demonstrate your management and leadership skills as mayor of Seoul; build a financial base for future campaigns by sponsoring a huge public works program that will bind construction companies close to your bosom; prove your allegiance to the interests of Korea’s elite, and (with their support) succeed to the Presidency in a year’s time.  Didn’t quite work out as planned, because the little people got in the way.  As in the United States, those little people aren’t at all happy with politics-as-usual.  Which is why the leading (undeclared) candidate to replace Oh was (until today) a physician-turned-entrepreneur-turned-academic with no previous political background.  (Koreans just can’t help turning to yangban scholars in times of crisis.)

Ahn Cheol-soo, 49, a doctor-turned-computer expert who founded South Korea’s best-known anti-virus software firm Ahnlab, is widely popular, especially among young Koreans, due in part to his clean image. Surveys have put him well ahead of other possible [mayoral] contenders from both the ruling and opposition parties … Ahn received nearly 40 percent support among Seoul residents.

But wait!  Ahn “announced Tuesday that he has decided against a run and will instead back a leading liberal activist, Park Won-soon, in the upcoming election.”   What factors might lie behind this sudden withdrawal from the public stage?   Lunghu thinks it’s at least mighty coincidental that a major chaebol media outlet ran two prominent stories just yesterday:

Ahn Cheol-soo Keeps Private Life Private
Kim Mi-kyung: Much More Than the AhnLab Founder’s Wife

Among the interesting lines in these articles:

His private life has largely been off-limits.  Even some friends only know that he lives near the financial district of Yeouido but not the exact address.

Ahn does not have a cell phone and apparently communicates by e-mail.  His wife, SNU professor Kim Mi-kyung, said in one media interview, “If I don’t know where my husband is, I do an Internet search.” (c.f. Bernadette Chirac)

Kim was a respected pathology professor for 15 years at Sungkyunkwan University and Samsung Medical Center.  In 2002, she suddenly quit and went to the U.S. to study law … [at the] University of Washington, was admitted to the bar of California and New York after her J.D. in 2005, and then worked at Stanford Law School’s Center for Law and Biosciences.

Many people in Korea think Ahn is a model husband to let his wife go abroad to study at the age of 40.  But she smiles and said, “He didn’t oppose the idea, but he wasn’t passionate about it either.”

What is it that Chosun Ilbo is trying so hard NOT to say?   Perhaps (as usual) some pictures will provide an unspoken explanation.

In case you were wondering, the Chosun Ilbo “is generally considered to represent the conservative element of South Korean society.”   In that capacity, its editorial outlook is almost always aligned with the programs and candidates of the GNP.   Lunghu’s gonna guess that Park Won-soon won’t have Chosun Ilbo’s endorsement on October 26th.

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