S. Korean presidential hopeful quits as head of new party

Mr Ahn stepped down as co-leader of the People's Party amid allegations that its members had received kickbacks.
Mr Ahn stepped down as co-leader of the People's Party amid allegations that its members had received kickbacks.

SEOUL • A high-profile South Korean politician and presidential hopeful resigned yesterday as the head of a new opposition party that has been rocked by a bribery scandal.

Mr Ahn Cheol Soo, a former IT software tycoon, stepped down as co-leader of the People's Party amid allegations that its members had received tens of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from two local companies before legislative elections in April.

"All political responsibility for this case rests with me. I put down the co-chairmanship to take all the responsibility," Mr Ahn, 54, said.

The politician, who is very popular with younger voters, rose to prominence as a centrist independent candidate in the 2012 presidential election.

He dropped out of the race to support the main opposition candidate, Mr Moon Jae In, who eventually lost to the conservative Park Geun Hye.

Mr Ahn and Mr Moon are both expected to run again in the next presidential election in December 2017.

The National Election Commission claims that two lawmakers and a senior official from Mr Ahn's People's Party - which was set up only in January - were implicated in receiving some US$200,000 (S$270,000) in kickbacks from local firms ahead of parliamentary polls on April 13.

The official was arrested on charges of violating the law controlling political funds.

The prosecution authorities have also grilled the two lawmakers but stopped short of pressing charges.

"It shows once again how much trouble Korea has in developing a modern party system," said Dr Robert Kelly, a political science professor at South Korea's Pusan National University.

"Corruption and personalism continue to plague Korean parties, ironically including the party whose main appeal is that it is above this stuff."

Mr Ahn's party, which has promised "new politics", won 38 seats in April's parliamentary elections, giving him the potentially deciding vote on legislation. The ruling Saenuri lost 24 seats to finish with 122 and the main opposition squeaked ahead with 123.

Ahnlab, the company he founded in 1995, is South Korea's leading anti-virus software developer.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'S. Korean presidential hopeful quits as head of new party'. Print Edition | Subscribe