Riding the trend of establishing “think tanks” in preparation to run for the presidency, candidates have mobilized their policy research institutes to the fullest in the run up to the December race.
The size of each think tank seems to correspond to the prominence of the candidate it supports. Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri Party boasts one of the most extravagant lineups of experts in her think tanks.
“Compared to several years back, there are increasing number of think tanks in Korea that tend to rely heavily on the state or be associated with specific political forces or figures, thereby lacking in independence,” said Seoul National University politics professor Kang Won-taek, adding that seeking wider independence will be crucial for the healthy growth of a promising market.
Think tanks ― which gained prominence in the United States after World War II, when external policy groups came to the fore to support the government’s security strategies ― are considered as serving to bridge major policymakers such as the administration and congress with the citizens and their needs.
“While think tanks for a presidential candidate are encouraging in a way that each candidate invests that much in drawing up policies, such groups can be deemed more as a support group rather than a permanent organization,” Kang said.
Usually, key players in the think tank of a successful presidential candidate end up acquiring main posts in the administration.
With slogans like “economic democratization” taking center stage in this year’s presidential campaigns the roles of the brain boxes are seen to be more crucial than ever.
Park Geun-hye’s main think tank is the “Nation’s Future Research Center,” launched in 2010. It is a policy research group responsible for having incited the “battle of welfare policies” among rival parties in this year’s general elections.
The research center is headed by Sogang University professor Kim Kwang-doo, who is also a member of Park’s campaign committee. Kim was the brain behind Park’s 2007 presidential pledge to reduce tax and regulations and create an “upright legal order.”
Former Sungkyunkwan University professor and elected lawmaker Rep. Ahn Chong-bum is also a member of the group.
“People’s Hope Forum” is another organization supportive of Park, and was launched in 2008. While its peripheral activities involve organizing community services, it has a handful of nationwide sub-organizations under its board of directors at a size comparable to a political party. There is also “Forum Ore” led by former lawmaker Ham Seung-hee, which offers policy advice to the Saenuri Party.
Park’s in-house rival Gyeonggi Gov. Kim Moon-soo works closely with Gyeonggi Research Institute, where Seoul National University professor Jwa Seung-hee is the head of the board of trustees. The institute has reportedly been designing strategies for Kim to differentiate himself from frontrunner Park.
One of the most lavish think tanks is the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, supportive of Saenuri Party lawmaker Chung Mong-joon. Although he rescinded his presidential bid earlier this month upon the internal struggle over primary rules, the enthusiastic activities of the billionaire politician with the institute over the past few years were deemed to represent Chung’s growing appetite for the presidency.
The Asan Institute led by former Foreign Minister Han Seung-joo and former Yonsei University professor Hahm Chai-bong is focused on foreign policies and inter-Korean relations. It is also famous for hosting annual seminars inviting world-renowned scholars and figures such as former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
Haemil Research Institute was also mobilized under Chung, and is more centered on domestic politics with around 200 expert members.
The main opposition Democratic United Party’s leading presidential candidate Moon Jae-in is supported by “Damjaengi Forum,” chaired by former Korean Red Cross president Han Wan-sang. The forum comprises about 50 figures from all walks of life, including Reps. Lee Hack-young and Do Jong-hwan, along with novelist Gong Ji-young, Kyongbuk National University professor Lee Jeong-wook and former National Intelligence Service chief Kim Man-bok.
A more toned-down version of Moon’s think tank is the Institute for Future Korea, comprising pro-Roh experts to advise the former presidential chief-of-staff.
East Asia Future Foundation, in the meantime, has operated in support of DUP senior adviser Sohn Hak-kyu since its establishment in 2006. Sohn’s college alumni and former Culture Minister Song Tae-ho leads the foundation along with former SungKongHoe president Kim Sung-soo. Sohn also receives avid support from renowned liberal political professor Choi Jang-jip of Korea University.
Former chairman of the progressive party Chung Sye-kyun campaigns on the platform designed by “People’s Turn,” which is joined by politics professor Kim Soo-jin of Ewha Womans University and former Gender Equality Minister Jang Ha-jin. They were considered the brains behind Chung’s pledge to implement a “fountain economy,” a notion devised to counter the “trickle-down economy” in his presidential bid declaration.
Former South Gyeongsang Province Governor Kim Doo-kwan has a variety of different groups propping up his presidential bid, but his main think tank is considered to be “Research Institute on Self Governance.”
Eyes and ears are focused on which organization will be responsible for gathering forces under Ahn Cheol-soo, dean of Seoul National University Graduate School of Convergence Science and Technology, despite his ongoing reluctance to acknowledge his political aspirations.
While the Ahn Cheol-soo Foundation and AhnLab Inc. remain the former software mogul’s sturdy supporters, political watchers say Ahn will more likely seek assistance from diverse mentor groups rather than setting up a separate think tank. Some of his high-flying supporters include Park Kyung-chul, a doctor-turned-stock investor and columnist, and former Creative Korea Party chairman Moon Kook-hyun.
By Lee Joo-hee (firstname.lastname@example.org)