Software Mogul Ahn to Run in S. Korea’s Presidential Race

Ahnlab Chairman Ahn Cheol Soo
Ahn Cheol Soo, chairman of Ahnlab Inc. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Sept. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Ahn Cheol Soo, founder of South Korea’s biggest antivirus software maker, said he will run as an independent in the December presidential race to succeed Lee Myung Bak.

The founder of Ahnlab Inc. will challenge ruling party candidate Park Geun Hye and the main opposition’s Moon Jae In to be elected to a single five-year term to govern Asia’s fourth-biggest economy, he said at a press conference today in Seoul. Ahn said he will resign from Ahnlab’s board and if elected will donate his stake in the company, worth more than $300 million.

“People are expressing their desire for political reform through me,” he said in a 15-minute speech. “By running in this presidential election, I want to fulfill their desires.”

Ahn, 50, is running second in opinion polls behind Park, and his candidacy may hinder opposition efforts to unseat the ruling party. He will have to confront questions about his lack of governing experience to win voters dissatisfied with growing income disparity and rising youth unemployment.

“Ahn and Moon will need to decide if they are going to join forces to beat Park, whose popularity is 1.5 times theirs and if so, then how,” said Jeong Han Wool, director of the Center for Public Opinion Research at East Asia Institute in Seoul. “If they choose to each go at it alone, they might end up splitting the votes, boosting Park’s chances of securing victory.”

A Sept. 10-14 poll by Seoul-based Realmeter put support for Ahn at 24.7 percent, behind Park’s 41 percent and ahead of Moon at 19.2 percent. The survey of 3,750 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

Ahnlab Shares

Shares in Ahnlab, based in Seongnam, south of Seoul, today rose as much as 5.2 percent before closing down 0.1 percent at 124,900 won. Ahn’s announcement took place at 3 p.m. as the market closed.

Ahn, a medical doctor by training, founded Ahnlab in 1995. He currently has a 29 percent stake in the business, worth 365 billion won ($324 million), according to his spokesman, Yu Min Yeong. The Wharton MBA holder emerged as a possible candidate last October after the independent he backed won the Seoul mayoral election. He has never run for or served in public office and has never joined a political party.

“I have no political experience but I don’t know that having a lot of it is necessarily a good thing,” Ahn said. “While I lack direct political experience, my diverse range of experiences in information technology, medicine, management and education, will be a plus, never a minus.”

Chaebol Critic

A critic of chaebols, the family-run conglomerates like the Samsung and Hyundai groups, Ahn called for a “new economic model” and innovation that merges welfare and growth. In his latest book, Ahn advocates banning conglomerates’ cross-shareholding and limiting their investments in subsidiaries.

The ruling New Frontier Party last month nominated Park, the never-married, eldest daughter of former dictator Park Chung Hee, who is attempting to become South Korea’s first female president. Moon, a human-rights lawyer and one-time chief of staff to former President Roh Moo Hyun, won his Democratic United Party’s nomination on Sept. 16. Moon was jailed in 1975 for joining street protests against the rule of Park’s father.

While Moon said the opposition must form a coalition with Ahn to win the presidential race, Ahn today said it was “inappropriate” to discuss such a move at this point. He did not comment on whether he will form a new political party.

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