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Ahn Cheol-soo

Entrepreneur-turned-politician Ahn Cheol-soo entered the South Korean presidential race 19 September 2012, turning it into a three-way contest. Ahn Cheol-soo won the People's Party nomination. He is currently second in the Realmeter poll at 34 percent, but he had been slowly closing the gap with Moon. The South Korean software mogul pulled out of the 2012 presidential election to support Moon, but this time he vowed to stay in and expected to win.

It was a 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 saids that citizens had expressed their hope of political reform and that he would become the person who would 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, trailed behind both.

But for a man who had never held public office, there were questions remaining on Ahn positions on many domestic and foreign issues. On national security Ahn takes a somewhat tougher stance than Moon, supporting THAAD and international sanctions imposed on North Korea for breaching United Nations Security Council resolutions banning its nuclear program. But Ahn says he too would press for inter-Korean talks at some point.

At 50 years of age, Ahn ran as an independent in the December election. He had 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 said Ahn as a businessman had a lot of success and to young South Koreans, he was 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.

Ahn Cheol-soo, a soft-spoken Seoul National University (SNU) professor, gained popularity from a range of generations thanks to his upright personality, social entrepreneurship and attitude of taking on challenges. Many youngsters want to have him as their mentor, saying he is a person with a sense of morality, modest attitude, entrepreneurship and responsibility for public interest. Recent public polls showed that the medical doctor-turned-computer expert could beat any candidates if he joins the Seoul mayoral race.

As he stressed in countless lectures and in books, Ahn has lived a life of accepting challenges, refusing to remain satisfied with the status quo. Ahn graduated from SNU’s medical college and obtained his master’s and doctor’s degrees at the same school. He became the youngest chief of professors at Dankook University medical college at the age of 27, and remained a medical doctor for 14 years. During graduate school, Ahn became interested in computer programming. In 1988, he learned about computer viruses and made an anti-virus program named V1, abbreviating “vaccine” — the first invention of such kind in Korea.

Ahn kept upgrading versions of the vaccine called V2 and V3, and provided them to users for free. Working as a doctor in the daytime and making vaccines alone at night for seven years, Ahn quit as a doctor and set up AhnLab in 1995 to focus on the latter. Even after establishing the company, he kept offering the vaccines for free to individuals, only receiving money from corporate clients. Despite such business strategy, AhnLab became only the second software company in Korea to make more than 10 billion won in annual sales in 1999.

In 2005, he resigned from the CEO post and took an MBA course at Pennsylvania University’s Wharton School. His wife, who was also a doctor, studied law in the U.S. as well. After completing his studies in 2008, he taught management at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Since June this year, he has been dean of SNU Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology. Besides his unusual career, his upright personality was known to the public through “Youth Concert,” a conversation-style lecture he and celebrity economic critic Park Gyeong-cheol have given to the public on social affairs for free since 2009. More than 1,500 people attend every time. Participants, mainly in their 20s and 30s, say on the concert’s online bulletin board that they liked Ahn’s advice on life and his unbiased, sharp opinions on social issues.

Wanting to take advantage of his popularity, policymakers and political parties wooed him by suggesting various posts, such as Grand National Party’s Seoul mayor candidate in the 2006 election, communications minister during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, a Cheong Wa Dae secretary and lawmaker. He said earlier, “I refused them all because I didn’t have confidence in myself to survive well in the political circle and I don’t enjoy exercising power. I want to contribute to the society in a practical way.”

Former opposition party lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo presided over the launch of his new party on 10 January 2016. Already it was rustling the feathers of the existing main opposition party he got fed up with and left. Shin Se-min was there to witness the beginning of the People's Party. The curtain has gone up on the new party launched by Ahn Cheol-soo, a former software mogul-turned-lawmaker who sent a shock through Korean politics last month when he walked away from the party he co-founded. Speaking to roughly 2-thousand of his supporters and promoters at the party's launch at the Sejong Center in Seoul,… Ahn promised to create a new politics by the people and for the people... and vowed a change of government in the years to come.

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