UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon testing water for S. Korean presidency

February 2, 2015
(AP Photo/Eraldo Pere)

(AP Photo/Eraldo Pere)

By Jung Min-ho

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is testing the water to decide whether to run for the presidency in 2017, a source at the U.N. said Sunday.

“Everyone close to him is convinced that he will run for president,” a high-ranking U.N. official, who chose not to disclose his identity, told The Korea Times.

Kim Won-soo, a trusted advisor from Ban’s days at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is leading exploratory efforts, shuttling to and from Seoul, he said.

The official said that Kim spent more time in Seoul recently after speculation over Ban’s potential candidacy began last year.

“It’s almost impossible he won’t (run),” said the official. “Do you think after retirement he will come back to Korea and do nothing?”

Yet the risk of entering Korean politics as a former U.N. chief is great, said the source.

“Secretary General Ban is one of the world’s leaders,” said the official. “If he loses, the new president is not going to send him as an ambassador to Washington D.C. because he wouldn’t take such a job.”

The source added that Ban’s ambitious aides in overseas and domestic politics are expected to affect his decision.

Ban’s second five-year term as U.N. chief is scheduled to end in December 2016.

After his name made headlines here regarding a potential bid for the presidency, Ban’s office said in November the rumors that he might stand to become head of state were unfounded, and that such speculation could hamper his role as an impartial international leader.

Yet he did not clarify whether he would run for the Korean presidency.

Former heads of the U.N. often become powerful figures in domestic politics after gaining international recognition.

After serving as the fourth U.N. secretary general from 1972 to 1981, Kurt Waldheim was elected as president of Austria and was in office from 1986 to 1992. Boutros Boutros Ghali, the sixth U.N. secretary general, also quickly emerged as a presidential aspirant in 2011, when Egypt was in turmoil in the aftermath of the ousting of strongman Hosni Mubarak.

A survey conducted in December by local pollster Ace Research & Consulting Group showed that support for Ban was 38.7 percent, far ahead of his potential rivals Rep. Moon Jae-in of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) with 9.8 percent, and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon with 7.4 percent.

Without Ban, Park showed the highest level of support with 13.9 percent, followed by Moon (13.1 percent) and ruling Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung (8.7 percent).

Lawmakers from both the ruling and main opposition parties have publicly discussed seeking Ban as their candidate, saying that his political orientation is more in sync with their policies.

Some experts say that people’s distrust of established politicians may be expressed in an outpouring of support for Ban, who has accumulated valuable experience by mediating various international conflicts as U.N. chief.

They say there is high public expectation of his potential ability to mitigate the nation’s deep-seated strife with neighboring countries, including North Korea.