Ban Ki Moon back in South Korea

At Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, yesterday, Mr Ban (centre, with glasses and with hand raised) was greeted by hundreds of supporters. However, his return has also drawn media scrutiny of his credentials.
At Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, yesterday, Mr Ban (centre, with glasses and with hand raised) was greeted by hundreds of supporters. However, his return has also drawn media scrutiny of his credentials.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ex-UN chief says he will seek people's views before deciding whether to run for President

Returning home to South Korea after being away for a decade, newly retired United Nations (UN) chief Ban Ki Moon reiterated his determination to devote himself to his country, but stopped short of declaring his presidential bid.

He told the media at Incheon Airport yesterday that he will reach out to the people to listen to their views first, before making an "unselfish decision".

The decision will come soon, the career diplomat promised. His 10- year UN term ended last month.

South Korea is gearing up to elect a new leader ahead of schedule, if the Constitutional Court upholds the Parliament's impeachment of President Park Geun Hye over an influence-peddling and corruption scandal. A decision is due by June.

Mr Ban, 72, is widely expected to throw his hat into the ring on a conservative ticket. Although he once topped major presidential polls, his popularity dipped after Ms Park's scandal and he is now second to opposition candidate Moon Jae In. A survey by Realmeter earlier this week showed Mr Moon in the lead with 27.9 per cent of votes, ahead of Mr Ban's 20.3 per cent.

At the airport yesterday, Mr Ban was greeted by hundreds of supporters cheering for him when he delivered a short speech. Many held placards raving about his "inclusive" and "global" leadership.

 

However, his return has drawn media scrutiny of his credentials. Yesterday, Mr Ban - who was foreign minister from 2004 to 2006 - denied allegations that surfaced last month that he accepted US$230,000 (S$327,800) in bribes from a businessman from 2005 to 2007.

"I have never done anything against my conscience in the past 50 years as a South Korean civil servant and UN official," he said.

Mr Ban also addressed media queries about a UN resolution that discourages former secretaries-general from taking up government jobs. He said the UN will give an official stance on the issue, but his personal view is that the clause does not stop him from running in elections.

Analysts are split, however, on whether Mr Ban should just retire as South Korea's most illustrious envoy to the world or continue to contribute to the country. There are also concerns if the newcomer to local elections can survive a cut- throat presidential race.

Dr Lee Seong Hyon, of South Korean think-tank Sejong Institute, said that Mr Ban has yet to show any substance, and there is "a lot of bubble" in his popularity.

"What South Korea needs now is not just to elect another leader, but to change the socio-political system," he said. "We need someone with a forward-looking vision, who can say goodbye to South Korea's past. But Ban is someone from the past."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2017, with the headline 'Ban Ki Moon back in South Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe