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Is Ahn using game theory to gain an advantage in the election?

Is Ahn using game theory to gain an advantage in the election?

Posted October. 13, 2012 04:59,   


“I`ve crossed the bridge already. I`ve burned the bridge that I crossed.”

This is what independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo said Sept. 25 when asked if he would run for president to the end.

Several days later, he said, “I resigned as professor and chairman of Ahnlab,” adding, “I won`t look back at the bridge that I burned. I will create a future bridge that approaches on the way ahead.”

Certain watchers say he instantly countered speculation that he will quit at the halfway point in the election, which has been hounding him. Experts in game theory, however, counter that Ahn has a thoroughly thought-out strategic response to gain the upper hand in the process to unify the opposition candidate with Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party.

According to experts, the game between the two candidates to unify the opposition`s standard-bearer started with Moon’s initial move in May. Showing the lead in the effort to field a unified opposition candidate, Moon proposed a “joint government plan” under the assumption of regaining power from the conservatives to Ahn, who has no party affiliation, and launched an “ultimatum game.”

Moon apparently sought to issue a warning that if Ahn accepted the offer, Ahn would stand to gain and if not, both candidates could lose.

About four months later, Ahn presented the theory of a “burned bridge.” Experts analyzed his comments by saying his words did not target Ahn’s supporters or ruling Saenuri Party candidate Park Geun-hye, but rather Moon. That is, Ahn, who gained confidence due to approval ratings higher than those of Moon, conveyed to Moon the message, “I won`t quit halfway in the race, and if you want to unify, you should yield first.”

Experts say Ahn’s comments are tantamount to “burning the bridge behind” in game theory. This strategy discourages the enemy by removing any room for retreat and declaring to an opponent no chance for withdraw. Han Soon-goo, an economics professor at Yonsei University, said, “Ahn’s comments fully comply with game theory,” adding, “He also knows this theory as well.”

On the game to unify the opposition candidate, the ruling party`s Park is just a spectator. She probably feels uncomfortable over political attention focused on the two candidates ahead of the presidential election. Opinion polls suggest that Park is not guaranteed victory as long as the opposition camp unifies its candidate, whomever he is. Instead, Park can only wish for a scenario in which the two opposition candidates continue their game of chicken to face a heads-on collision and constantly expect the other to surrender, only to fail to narrow differences and end up running independently.

Dong-A analyzed through game theory the politics of the presidential election with experts, including economists, management specialists and mathematicians. Unlike the election five years ago, when President Lee Myung-bak enjoyed a landslide victory with a lead of five million votes, the majority of experts predict the upcoming election will embrace a change in election results according to how the candidates cope with situations under a sophisticated structure of the game. Experts say, "As the election draws nearer, a battle of numbers between the candidates will further intensify."

jarrett@donga.com january@donga.com