Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dear Ahn Cheol Su 안철수: Please Do Not Run for President

So this was in the news. From here.
Ahn Cheol su has been running the biggest political tease I've seen in a while. Here's what I think:

Dear Ahn Cheol Su: Please Do Not Run for President

Mr. Ahn, you are very famous, and very accomplished. These days, it seems like everybody loves you: simply indicating you are interested in politics vaulted you ahead of Park Geun-Hye in speculative polls, and your support carried Park Won-soon into the position of Seoul Mayor. The idea that you might consider running for president, makes a lot of people shake with excitement.

But please don't.

Let's look at this logically:

We've seen the outsider before:

Why are people are so excited you might go into politics? Because they are tired, and cynical, about the current system, and current politicians. Yes, you have your own impressive qualities, intelligence and talent, but part of the reason for your popularity is not really about you: it is an expression of people's discontent with the other options, and with the general climate of politics in Korea: nothing intrinsic to you at all. People have been betrayed too often by the politicians running the country, who abandon their principles when white envelopes change hands under the table.

I am sure you remember the sad story of Roh Moo-hyun: he was a political outsider (like you) and he said all the right things (like you). People voted for him because he seemed to promise a fresh start and a change from the ugly way politics were done until then (like you). Roh really meant something to a lot of people - I still have students and friends who speak passionately, with eyes shining, about the promises he made.

Then what? Once he entered office, all those high principles were hidden from view, blocked by political squabbling inside and outside his party, as he was attacked by everybody who felt threatened by his promise of a new way to do politics. His presidency started with a bloody fight that nearly led to his impeachment, and ended in allegations of corruption and disappointment... even though those pointing fingers at him were at least as corrupt as he was.

Is it possible you could become Korea's president, and start a new era in Korean politics? Perhaps. But I think it is more likely that the Korean politicians who have gotten fat abusing their power, and benefiting from their corruption and connections, will (for once) come together in their mission to either remove you, destroy you, or worse: to drag you down into their mud pit, and make you just as dirty as they are. This would leave Korean voters once again heartbroken and disappointed, and even more cynical than before. Like ex-president Roh, I fear that your ideals will disappear under the pile of garbage other politicians will throw at you, to protect their privileged way of life, and distract people from their own corruption.

The important question:

The important question is not "Could I be elected as president if I ran?" The question is, "If elected, could I fill the promise that makes people vote for me?" And I don't think you can. I don't think anyone can. The system has been in place too long, it is too savage and ugly, and there are too many people in powerful positions with reasons of self-interest to keep it in place. The political process is too slow, and too easily derailed in Korea by childish gestures from politicians, like tear gas bombs and secret sessions, for one person to actually change it, during one five-year presidential term (five years is really short for such a huge change!), while all the seasoned politicians work (in self-preservation) to undo him and his efforts.

But if Korea's people truly are sick of Korea's corrupt, unchanging system, one where corrupt officials favor the moneyed rather than the common citizen, there is something you can do instead, with your fame and influence: something that keeps your reputation for integrity pure, and something that will, over a long time, even create a better political atmosphere in Korean politics.

A different idea:

Rather than running for political office yourself, I ask you to use your influence to become a name all politicians, from either side, fear and respect: a name that causes them to reconsider accepting a bribe or using their influence to benefit their friends and connections.


The prizes named after Alfred Nobel and Joseph Pulitzer have lived on long after the men who founded them, and the ideals their awards honor and promote are a legacy that has become greater than any of their lifetime accomplishments. The achievements of other humans aiming to win the prizes named after Pulitzer and Nobel, have led to countless other achievements in many different fields, that have benefited all mankind.

If you really want to change politics in Korea, let me suggest the Ahn Chul-soo Integrity Award. Use some of your money (you've got plenty!) to establish a foundation to provide award money, and every year, with your bipartisan or non-affiliated selection committee, give out two Ahn Chul-soo Integrity Awards: one to the politician who has behaved in a way that brings the most honor to Korean politics, through honesty, transparency, and dignity, and one to the journalist, blogger, citizen-reporter, or whistle-blower who uncovers the act of corruption, cronyism, or dishonesty among politicians and business leaders, that is most damaging to the reputation of Korean politics, and Korean democracy. Establish a committee with representatives from different age groups and political beliefs, with a transparent procedure (for accountability), who choose among nominees. Publicize the nominees, both for good, to praise those who fight corruption, and for bad, to shame those who are corrupt. Every ambitious young journalist in Korea will focus their attention on exposing corruption, in hopes of winning your award, and every politician will fear to engage in dirty dealings, knowing that Korea's most ambitious reporters are searching for ways to expose them.

Rather than join the mud fight of South Korean politics, and run the danger of beginning to look like just another pig twisting in the mud, I encourage you to use your influence and popularity to shine the brightest spotlight possible on Korea's politicians, so that if the private shame of dishonesty and indignity is not enough to dissuade Korea's politicians from acting corrupt in secret, and childishly in the National Assembly, perhaps the fear of discovery and public embarrassment will motivate them to change their behavior.

I firmly believe that this is the best way you could use your fame and influence to truly improve the political atmosphere in Korea, and give Korean citizens and voters the fresh start they long for.

Please consider my suggestion.


Rob Ouwehand

(if you like my idea: tweet it, post it, share it... translate it)


Roboseyo said...

Dislike your idea. I would rather have him be the president, or at least someone who would rekindle the progressive side of the ledger.

Roboseyo said...

This is the guy responsible for the crappy mal/bloat-ware "protection" on my office computer so I gotta say, my completely hypothetical vote is not going to him.

Roboseyo said...

President is 5 years. Nobel prize is 117 years and counting.

Roboseyo said...

Ever heard of Seoul Peace Prize? Or RFK award for human rights? Or Confucius Peace Prize? The market for high-minded awards is pretty saturated. It is a bit like the market for SNS -- nobody quite remembers what's so great about Facebook, but people keep using it because people keep using it. There is a huge barrier for new entry.

At any rate, I generally dislike the urge to avoid the political process. The political process is there to be engaged. Like it or not, that's democracy and that is our governing system. If you want change, you do so by engaging the system. 

It is far too much to claim that Korea's political system is unchanging. Take it from the guy who saw his uncles dragged out of their houses in the middle of the night during the 노태우 administration. Korean political system changes, and it actually changes quite quickly and radically compared to other political systems.

Roboseyo said...

Sorry to prattle on (you know this is all friendly,) but more I think about your proposal, the less I like it. It sounds like a more elaborate and expensive version of KONY 2012. Both operate on the same faulty assumption -- that more "awareness" will bring about changes. No, only real action brings about real changes. If you want real change, you get in and you get your hands dirty.

Roboseyo said...

We've already seen what a person promising change can bring, despite incredible resistance from the factions and institutions that dislike change. It goes without saying that they'll continue to fight, discredit, and otherwise play dirty - that's just human nature. 

Playing the king-maker is not a maker of great things - and being president for five years could create more change in Korea's ever-evolving government.

Roboseyo said...

Yeah, the Korean system is a lot of things, but it's certainly not unchanging. I think the government, long-term, is still devolving from a dictatorship to a democracy, but the general trend is towards better, less corrupt and more responsive government.

Roboseyo said...

The prizes you mention sound like they are for peace and human rights... not for a new way of politics, which is what people are crying out for, and the reason voters supported Park Won-soon (another outsider) and are excited about Ahn.

But there area lot of other ways to engage the political system than to run for office. You get to run for president once, and then you've pretty much blown your stack -- if you run again, it's "that guy again" rather than a new message. Yeah, Kim Dae-joong ran a few times before he was elected, and that WAS a signal of a sea change in Korean politics... but pre/post democracy is a bigger change, and a clearer sign of change, than the kids of change that need to happen now.
If he's using his reputation and... dare I say moral authority... to encourage young people to become politically engaged, to pay attention, to vote, and to care, there's no five year limit on that. And if he's shining a bright spotlight at ALL politicians, rather than joining the mudfight himself, that's NOT disengaging... that's engaging just as broad a bandwidth as becoming a political player himself, but that form of engagement can be sustained over a longer time than one term in office.

Running for office is not the only way to engage with, and foster democracy in Korea: encouraging and supporting a healthy, widespread, thoughtful and informed civil society is just as important, so that those IN office are better in tune with the people they are supporting.

Roboseyo said...

and for that matter...I dont' think a Korean engaging Korea's people to mobilize, to care, to vote, to inform themselves, and to send a clear message to Korea's politicians that they're being watched... is anything like Kony2012 at all. I have no idea what you mean by that comparison... where are the white people feeling good about themselves by retweeting, but doing nothing, in a well-resourced local using his resources to encourage politicians to focus on the people rather than their own self-interest?

Roboseyo said...

That's a fair point. Just to address the KONY 2012 part, because I certainly did not intend any insult. I did not intend to say anything about being a stakeholder. I think there is no question that, at this point, you are a greater stakeholder in Korean politics than I. But I can see how that idea can be evoked by my referring to KONY 2012. Sorry about that -- I could have been more careful.

The fundamental silliness about KONY 2012, in my estimation, is that it rested on the false assumption that spreading more "awareness" through social media, and clicking the "like" button a bunch of times, would bring about meaningful social change. (I think you understand this point -- it's the same thing as "retweeting but doing nothing.") And I think creating a reward is simply a little more expensive version of the same. 

Roboseyo said...

great thought! if he runs, he will get my vote, but also you are right about the reality in Korean politic.  

Roboseyo said...

I really appreciate your taking the time to unpack what you meant about Kony2012: we've had enough conversations back and forth that I didn't think you were saying to me the things your comment accidentally suggested...

but I disagree with you about awards, if they're high profile enough: the Nobel Prize is famous enough that China warned Norway that its peace prize choices might damage Norway-China relations... that's quite a big deal.

Roboseyo said...

If he ran, and I could vote, I'd probably vote for him, too.

but i'd also continue talking about civil society, and how a culture of vigorous and robust, well-informed and thoughtful discussion from all citizens on ALL issues, is more important than supporting ONE person and hoping THEY fix things themselves.

Roboseyo said...

wow~ there are lots of discusions on your website~!
I allmost agree with your opinion about what you suggested. but as student majored in management and economics, I should mention some dangerous happenings that are coming soon. 
first, korea have been aging like japan, that mean we have been loosing our driving forces of developing contry. so goverment have to do something. if nothing changed, next generation will suffer due to that problem such as pension, tax and so on. 

second, there are tremendous gap between rich and poor. I don`t think that it could be changed without powerful raw or someone leader 
actually all most money is toward rich (and I`ve read some article about america, 10% rich family have asset of 70%) 

third, Im sure that even if it is possible that Ahn found "Integrity Award"
it will be buried because of corrupted people that you mentioned 
they already have a lot of authoruty and CEO, president in collusion.
and also having media press like Silvio Berlusconi 

In my opinion, this is only last opotunity we can change our country. 
and there are gatta be someone who lead us and following us 

I always read newspaper, and sometimes see article in terms of Park Won-soon
in summary, we don`t have time to wait 

what do you think of that??

Roboseyo said...

I am completely ignorant for politics, but your letter for Ahn Chul-soo was good. I can see that you are trying to protect an untainted man and to have him play his role for what he's good at instead of diverging into another road. I am totally for your opinions and I can see that if Ahn Chul soo does get involved in politics, he sure to be affected negatively in the mud pit.