SEOUL • Former UN chief Ban Ki Moon, once the favourite to be South Korea's next president, yesterday ruled out running for the job, saying he was "disappointed at the selfish ways" of some politicians, and complaining of "fake news".
Mr Ban told reporters in Parliament, after meeting conservative party leaders, that he had been subject to maligning and "slander akin to character assassination" in the media and had given up his "patriotic" plan to lead political change.
"With all kinds of fake news, my intention for political change was nowhere to be seen and all that was left was grave scars to my family and myself, and to the honour of the United Nations, where I spent the past 10 years," he said.
"I will give up my pure intention to bring about a change in politics under my leadership and to unify the country," he said. "I'm sorry for disappointing many people."
Although he never officially declared he was running, Mr Ban embarked on a series of public appearances and repeatedly spoke of the need to bring about a "change in politics" in a country where a corruption scandal has seen President Park Geun Hye impeached.
If the impeachment vote is upheld by the Constitutional Court, she will have to quit and an election would be held two months later. A ruling is expected as soon as later this month.
Mr Ban, 72, returned to South Korea on Jan 12, after 10 years as UN secretary-general. He was unable to capitalise on his much-anticipated homecoming, cutting a sometimes-irritable figure in public and was mired in a series of perceived public relations gaffes and a scandal involving family members.
The media leapt on a series of minor blunders, for instance, when he took the airport express train instead of a limo on his return to South Korea, but did not know how to buy a ticket.
Two days later, Mr Ban visited a nursing home where he fed porridge to an elderly woman. He was criticised for wearing a bib when the woman was not - and for feeding her while she was lying flat on her back.
Even without saying he was running, his ratings in opinion polls had slipped to second place behind the presidential candidate for the main opposition Democratic Party, Mr Moon Jae In, after peaking at nearly 30 per cent last year.
Mr Ban had been expected to run as a conservative but was unable to secure any party affiliation. His clean image and international profile were dealt a blow with the indictment of his brother Ban Ki Sang and a nephew in the United States, in a bribery scheme involving a Vietnamese development project.
Mr Ban's announcement appeared to take the four main political parties aiming to field candidates by surprise, including Mr Moon's Democratic Party.
The former UN chief's decision could boost the chances of minor candidates such as Mr Ahn Cheol Soo of the progressive People's Party, said Dongguk University political science professor Kim Jun Seok.
There had been little to propel Mr Ban's chances for the presidency in the absence of a political base and the lack of a clear message after his return from New York, Prof Kim said. "He has hit a wall with nothing but his high profile as the UN secretary-general," he said. "While his support ratings did not rise... he kept making mistakes. And people felt (he) should not be a president."
Mr Ban was South Korea's foreign minister from 2004 to 2006, helping to implement a policy of engagement with North Korea, before taking the top job at the UN.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE