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South Korean Entrepreneur Enters Presidential Race

  • Jason Strother

Ahn Cheol-soo, the founder of Seoul-based antivirus maker AhnLab, waves as he arrives for a press conference in Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 19, 2012.
Entrepreneur-turned-politician Ahn Cheol-soo has entered the South Korean presidential race, turning it into a three-way contest. But for a man who has never held public office, there are questions remain on Ahn stands on many domestic and foreign issues.

Hope for political reform

It was the moment that many South Koreans had been waiting for. After months of speculation, Ahn Cheol-soo, an academic who gained fame as a computer software developer, told his supporters he will seek South Korea’s top job.

Ahn says that citizens have expressed their hope of political reform and that he will become the person who will make that hope a reality.

Even before Ahn made his announcement, opinion polls put him just behind presidential front runner Park Geun-hye. Moon Jae-in, the candidate from the progressive opposition party, trails behind both.

Upcoming election

At 50 years of age, Ahn will run as an independent in the December election. He has never held public office. But some observers say Ahn’s role as a political outsider has greatly contributed to his popularity.

Hwang Tae-soon is a political analyst at the Wisdom Center, a think tank in Seoul.

He says Ahn as a businessman has had a lot of success and to young South Koreans, he is the hope of their generation

Hwang adds that little is known about Ahn’s position on many domestic and foreign policies. Ahn has written about creating a more equal society, but how he would go about doing so as president is unclear. Hwang says this vagueness will not dissuade his supporters, who are tired of corrupt politicians.

He says South Koreans do not respect the established parties or the politics of today. Despite his lack of experience, he presents himself as a clean politician.

Some observers say that, if Ahn trails too far behind, he and Moon Jae-in might throw their support to one or the other to defeat Park Geun-hye. But Hwang says that scenario, this close to the election, is unlikely.