A popular software magnate has bowed out of South Korea’s presidential race, setting the stage for the main liberal opposition candidate to take on conservative front-runner Park Geun-hye of the ruling New Frontier Party in national elections next month.
Independent Ahn Cheol-soo’s announcement on Friday night ended a tense, week-long tug-of-war between the two opposition figures on finding a single challenger to take on Park, the daughter of late South Korean leader Park Chung-hee.
Ahn threw his support behind Moon and said he was withdrawing to keep his public promise to decide on a single candidate to challenge Park before formal registration for candidates was to begin yesterday.
“It is important for me to become president and unfold a new kind of politics,” Ahn said.
“However, keeping a promise I’ve made with the people is more important,” he said.
Media polls have shown neither Ahn nor Moon could defeat Park in the Dec. 19 elections if the race came down to three candidates, so it was seen as crucial to throw liberal and independent support behind a single person.
Ahn, a political novice and bookish entrepreneur who made his fortune in software before turning to philanthropy, has been called South Korea’s Bill Gates.
His political message rang true with many young people and with those disgruntled with traditional South Korean politics. Moon and Park are from South Korea’s two major political parties.
Ahn resigned as AhnLab’s chief executive officer in 2005, turning to teaching management and entrepreneurship at universities.