Photo: Yun Seok-yeol (left) and Ahn Cheol-su at the joint press conference announcing unity candidacy. Credit: NATV.
With just six days remaining until the presidential election, and immediately after the final televised debate, People Power Party's candidate Yun Seok-yeol 윤석열 국민의힘 후보 and People's Party candidate Ahn Cheol-su 안철수 국민의당 후보 agreed to form a unity ticket.
In the press conference held on the morning of March 3, Ahn announced that he would withdraw his candidacy and support Yun. The two candidates also said their two parties will merge, which would allow the PPP to cover the People's Party campaign expenses.
Why form a unity candidacy? Why now? The unity ticket makes logical sense for the two candidates. Ahn, polling between 6% and 9%, had little chance of winning the election, while Yun's support has been sinking lately as the Democratic Party's Lee Jae-myung 이재명 민주당 후보 had been making a furious chase in the past several weeks, beginning to overtake Yun in a handful of polls.
Nevertheless, the unity ticket came as a surprise to most. Ahn Cheol-su's political life is primarily remembered as being on the losing side of the unity ticket: this would make it the fourth time that Ahn quit an election in favor of another candidate. His most recent withdrawal was less than a year ago, when he withdrew from the mayoral by-election in Seoul after losing to O Se-hun 오세훈 in an ad hoc primary.
A week ago, Ahn Cheol-su declared repeatedly that the negotiation for a unified candidacy was "over", as the PPP Chairman Lee Jun-seok 이준석 국민의힘 당대표 repeatedly insulted Ahn's campaign, at one point mocking Ahn's two staffers who passed away on the campaign trail from a carbon monoxide poisoning accident. The acrimony between Ahn and the PPP ran so high that at one point, it appeared more plausible that Ahn would form a unity ticket with Lee Jae-myung, who kept a soft stance on Ahn during televised debates in an attempt to isolate Yun.
With the ballot already printed bearing Ahn's name, it appeared that the prospect for a unity candidacy was finished until hours ago. Reportedly, Yun and Ahn met immediately after the final televised debate to negotiate the unity candidacy, coming to an agreement in the early morning of March 3.
How will this affect the election? It is all but impossible to gauge how this will affect the election, as the unity ticket was announced on the first day of the "poll blackout" period, during which opinion polls may not be released to the public. Ahn has little time to actually campaign with Yun: the early voting begins tomorrow (March 4), and only six days remain until the main voting on March 9. (The overseas absentee votes for Ahn, which were concluded on February 28, will be counted invalid.) Given the insufficient time, it is unclear how much synergy Ahn could create with Yun with the unity candidacy.
It is virtually certain that Yun cannot absorb all of Ahn's support. The support for Ahn, a center-right candidate, is largely made up of moderate conservatives who finds Yun too unpalatable. The abrupt manner in which Ahn joined Yun's camp may well turn off Ahn's supporters who were searching for an alternative conservative. Those supporters may grudgingly vote for Yun; they may also vote for Lee Jae-myung, or give up voting altogether.
The few opinion polls from the past two days, surveying a hypothetical head-to-head race between Yun Seok-yeol and Lee Jae-myung, showed a dead heat. In the OBS poll from February 28 to March 1, Lee earned 46.8% and Yun 46.4% in a hypothetical head-to-head match. A poll by Ace Research from February 27 to 28 showed Lee 46.1%, Yun 47.5%. Poll by Munhwa Ilbo 문화일보 from March 1 to 2 showed Lee 45.0%, Yun 45.9%.