The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Transition team chief's actions hint at rift with president-elect

Concerns rise over conservative bloc merger and plans for local elections

By Ko Jun-tae

Published : April 14, 2022 - 13:30

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People`s Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo, serving as the chairman of the presidential transition committee for President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, sits in for a transition team meeting on Wednesday. (Joint Press Corps) People`s Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo, serving as the chairman of the presidential transition committee for President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, sits in for a transition team meeting on Wednesday. (Joint Press Corps)
A rift may be forming between President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol and transition committee chief Ahn Cheol-soo, raising concerns over the conservative bloc’s party merger and plans for a coalition government.

On Thursday, Ahn canceled his scheduled visit to the Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Headquarters in the morning, after dropping out of a dinner meeting with Yoon and other officials the previous day.

Ahn’s recent schedule decisions are fanning speculation that he is showing discontent over his decisions being ignored, as his recommendations for Cabinet members were bypassed in all rounds of nominations announced thus far.

Yoon has repeatedly told the press that all of his nominations were discussed with his prime minister nominee Han Duck-soo, hinting that Ahn was left out in the decision-making process.

Some speculate that Ahn will resign from his post as transition team chairman in protest.

“For the past month, he has been busy working on the transition committee, but I think he needs time now to assess the current situation,” a source close to Ahn told the press following the announcement that Ahn had canceled his scheduled dinner with Yoon.

The apparent strife has sparked speculation that the vow to form a coalition government may not be kept, at least during the early years of the Yoon administration, as Yoon nominated all of the Cabinet members thus far without considering Ahn’s opinions.

In the run up to the presidential election, Ahn called off his campaign and declared support for Yoon. The two vowed to form a coalition government, and their parties – Yoon’s People Power Party and Ahn’s People’s Party – agreed to merge after the election.

The two agreed then to form a joint presidential transition team if Yoon was elected but did not mention whether any additional promises or deals were reached in the negotiation process. Some have blamed Yoon for taking advantage of Ahn and failing to stay keen to his past promises.

“The chairman of the presidential transition committee disappears from the press spotlight after May 10,” Ryu In-tae, former secretary general of the National Assembly, said in a radio interview Thursday.

“(Ahn Cheol-soo) is not even a legislator, and he will just become a member of a political party. (The Yoon administration or the People Power Party) could offer him a few positions, but how would that be satisfactory for him?”

Yoon’s side has rejected speculations of Ahn’s departure from the transition team, saying that less than a month remains until Yoon’s inauguration and that Ahn’s presence is needed for a successful launch.

“We have expectations and trust that (Ahn) will do his best until the end and be responsible for his duty,” Rep. Bae Hyun-jin, a spokesperson for Yoon, said during a press briefing Thursday.

“We will also try to dedicate time to converse (with Ahn) on the matter.”

The ongoing strife also threatens the progress of the merger negotiations between the People Power Party and the People’s Party, which is on the verge of completion and official announcement. The two parties have been working to merge and start joint preparations for the upcoming local elections slated on June 1.

People Power Party Chairman Lee Jun-seok told reporters following a meeting of senior party officials Thursday that the merger negotiations are almost complete, saying it is only waiting for an official announcement jointly from himself and Ahn.

“I could speculate a few reasons on why the decision is not finalized from the People’s Party based on press reports, but I have not been told any specific reasons as to why the People’s Party is postponing on making the final decision,” Lee said.

“An official announcement of chairmen of both parties is the next step after the final agreement is reached, and that part is being pushed back.”

Even if the merger is successful, those involved still face difficult hurdles related to the local elections, from forming the candidate nomination committee and selecting the candidates for specific constituencies to management of the party’s finances.

The parties are also under a time crunch, as the People Power Party is scheduled to start administering an official internal aptitude test on coming Sunday for those looking to run as proportional representatives in the local elections bearing the conservative party’s flag.

Many expect the People Power Party to have a better chance to prevail in the local elections, and they believe a successful merger with the People’s Party could help the conservative party gain a greater presence in traditionally liberal constituencies.