U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to Determine Run for Presidency after "Hearing from Citizens"
NEW YORK, Dec. 20 (Yonhap) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday that he is willing to fully devote himself to his home country, the strongest signal yet that he would run for president in South Korea next year.
"If what I have learned, seen and felt during my 10-year service as U.N. secretary-general could help advance the Republic of Korea, I am willing to fully devote myself to it," Ban said during a valedictory meeting with South Korean journalists.
"Though my capacity is limited, I will not be sparing of myself if my know-how is needed to develop the country and enhance citizens' welfare and livelihoods," he added.
Although Ban, a former foreign minister, has not clearly declared his intention to join the presidential race, his name has long been bandied about as an odds-on presidential contender on the ruling party ticket. Observers here anticipate that Ban will begin political activities after the end of his second five-year term as U.N. helmsman at the end of this year.
"I have been musing about how and where I will dedicate myself," he said. "I will determine (whether to run for the presidency) after I meet citizens from various walks of life and listen to their opinions. What is most important is citizens' thoughts."
During the interview, Ban made an unusual criticism of South Korea's establishment political parties long plagued by factional feuds and partisan wrangling, but he did not rule out the possibility of his future tie-up with a political bodies.
"You can't do politics all by yourself," he said. "There should be some sort of means and a vision."
Commenting on the political scandal that has threatened to end President Park Geun-hye's presidency, Ban pointed out that citizens are frustrated and enraged by the "lack of good governance," and that the fault lies with the "system and leadership."
"The genuine leadership... genuinely inclusive leadership comes from harmony, integration, inclusive dialogue, national cohesion and social integration. That is what I have usually thought of as the crux of the leadership," he said.
Mentioning the massive anti-Park candlelight vigils that have taken place across the country over the past two months, he said that he felt saddened and heavy-hearted.
"As those deep-rooted evils have been brought to the fore, we should get together and fix them," he said.
Asked if he has given any thought to use his title as a former U.N. chief on the international stage, rather than in domestic politics, Ban said that at the current juncture, it is "more urgent" for him to work for his own country and fellow citizens.
"It is not like I can't carry out any international task while engaging in domestic affairs. I can handle both," he said.
As for the date of his return to South Korea, Ban reiterated that he would return to Korea in mid-January.
Upon his return home, he will first pay a courtesy call to Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn and meet with other national leaders including National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, the outgoing U.N. chief said.
During the interview, the U.N. chief criticized North Korea as the "most irresponsible" country among the 193 U.N. member states. He also expressed concerns about Pyongyang's evolving nuclear and missile technologies, which he said would pose a "hard-to-handle" security challenge at some point.
Following Ban's apparent show of presidential ambitions, the main opposition Democratic Party renewed its stance against his run for the presidency.
"It is undesirable for the U.N. secretary-general to snoop around the murky domestic political arena," Choo Mi-ae, the party's leader, told reporters.
The minor opposition People's Party, however, showed its interest in inviting him into its party's primary race.
"I think he can join us," said Kim Dong-cheol, the interim leader of the party.
There is the possibility that South Koreans may vote to pick a successor to President Park Geun-hye earlier than expected after the National Assembly impeached the chief executive over a high-profile corruption scandal centering around her longtime friend.
The Constitutional Court will determine whether to unseat the president or reinstate her after a legal review that could last up to six months. If the court upholds the impeachment motion, the country will hold an election -- originally scheduled for December next year -- within 60 days of the verdict.
The likelihood of Ban seeking a tie-up with the ruling Saenuri Party remains slim as the party has lost public confidence due to the political scandal. Ban has been seen as moving to distance himself from the unpopular president and her party.
Last week, Ban made a rare criticism of the Park administration in light of the scandal, voicing concerns over the country's "complete lack of good governance." Such comments hint that he may not be seeking to run for president on the ruling party ticket.
Some observers, however, raised the possibility that dozens of Saenuri lawmakers, who have decided to leave the party next week amid factional infighting, may try to court Ban, who has ranked first or second in terms of public support in various polls over the past several months.
Some 35 Saenuri lawmakers, who have been in a long-simmering feud with party loyalists to Park, plan to quit the fractured party to create their own political group that they say would represent "true conservatism."
When Ban returns home in mid-January as he stated, more lawmakers are expected to bolt from the ruling party to support Ban, which will leave the embattled party dominated by staunch Park loyalists.
Chung Jin-suk, a former Saenuri floor leader, is among the lawmakers who decided to stay for the time being, but will likely leave upon Ban's return.
"Ban is a Korean who has seen the world from the broadest perspective (while serving as U.N. chief)," he told Yonhap News Agency over the phone. "Unlike establishment politicians, he is a figure who can bring about fresh change in politics."
Should Ban join the party that Saenuri defectors plan to create, he is likely to face competition from a series of contenders such as Rep. Yoo Seong-min and Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil.
The intraparty contest to become the standard-bearer may not be an easy task for Ban, a political neophyte. The former foreign minister has little experience in domestic politics.
With the rise of Ban as a formidable presidential contender, political watchers also raise the possibility of him joining the "third political zone" -- a term referring to a group of politicians who are not anchored in the political mainstream, but can appeal to a growing number of voters disenchanted with establishment politics.
The minor People's Party and "non-mainstreamers" in the main opposition Democratic Party who are disgruntled with the domination of loyalists to former party leader Moon Jae-in in the party, have led the political debate over the creation of the third political zone.
Those eyeing the new political grouping largely pursue centrist values as they seek to expand their presence by embracing participants from across the political spectrum. They also see the possibility of joining with those set to quit the ruling party.
The People's Party, in fact, welcomed Ban's moves to join the presidential race.
"We, in principle, agree to the idea of U.N. Secretary-General Ban using his ample experience for the nation," Kim Dong-cheol, the party's interim leader, told reporters. "I believe he can work with us."
The move to forge the third political zone could gain traction if non-mainstreamers -- conservative or liberal -- coalesce behind the issue of a constitutional revision, political watchers said.
Should Ban lead the issue of rewriting the decades-old law to bring about a shift in the country's contentious governance structure, he could emerge as a pivotal figure in the envisioned political zone.
Observers largely agree that Ban may not seek to create his own party to run in the election given that he lacks political experience, and that the creation of a new political entity would take a long time.