The secretary general’s willA few days ago, I had an opportunity to attend a meeting of the Kwanhun Club in Jeju and observe United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Everyone’s attention was focused on whether Ban would run in next year’s presidential election and if he would be the winner if he runs. The concentrated attention showed the level of anticipation. And it is the nature of a presidential race that a contender is instantly abandoned when such anticipation is betrayed.
While maintaining composure as the incumbent chief of the United Nations, Ban assured his audience that he would participate in politics when the time comes. If he was too timid, he would have been seen as too weak. If he was too aggressive, he would have faced criticism. A delicate balance of considering both supporters and critics at home and abroad was seen.
Next year, Ban will turn 73. When Syngman Rhee was elected president, he was 73, and when Kim Dae-jung was elected, he was 72. If Ban runs, he will be one of the oldest contenders. Asked if he is okay with his age, Ban responded without reservation.
“The lifespan today is 15 to 20 years longer than that in 1948, when Rhee was elected president,” he said. “Presidential contenders from the U.S. Democratic Party were 70 and 76 years old. I have never missed a day for sickness since elementary school.” His answer needed no further interpretation.
“When I come back to Korea as a citizen on Jan. 1, 2017, after surrendering my UN passport, I will make public my decision,” Ban said. A member of the United Nations cannot work for his or her homeland. Ban expressed his ambition with the strongest words he could use. And his presidential ambition became public.
Will he be the president? You can declare a bid, but winning requires strategy and action. Organizing support, campaign funds and crafting a campaign message are key elements. Ban should have a strong reason to win the presidency, and a determination that he will advance till the end even if it requires blood. And those elements, when added together, create the will to power.
The will to power is different from ordinary ambitions and desires. Ban’s will to power has not been proven. He must go through the test of confronting President Park Geun-hye and the ruling Saenuri Party.
The press on Jeju asked Ban the following questions: “Did Park ever send you a signal to work together for next year?” “Rep. Hong Moon-jong, a Park loyalist, said Ban is not a variable but a constant in the Saenuri Party’s equation for presidential candidacy. What do you think?”
Ban replied that Park had never sent him a signal. He said he knows Hong but hasn’t spoken to him over the past 10 years.
He was denying rumors that Park was supporting Ban as her successor. It was his suggestion that the Park loyalists’ plan to make him the presidential candidate was a unilateral proposal.
In fact, those who know Park well say it is highly unlikely for Park to select a successor because it will largely reduce her power and room to maneuver.
Ban could have been anxious about Park’s indifference, and his remarks in Jeju could have been the expression of that frustration. If that is the case, he is losing the game.
The only political asset Ban has secured so far is the united power of Chungcheong voters, and with that, his chance to win the presidency is higher than what Kim Jong-pil had. If Ban joins the Saenuri Party of today, controlled by Park’s high-handedness and factionalism of her loyalists, he will lose everything at once. He will lose public support while struggling in an inescapable swamp of political fights.
If he joins the Saenuri Party, he should be capable of completely restarting the party. If he enjoys the support of Park loyalists, he will face a high chance of collapse. He should be prepared to start a war against Park loyalists’ factionalist culture. He must arm himself with political abilities. Will Ban have such creativity and courage?
After the Jeju forum, I felt empty because Ban only talked about Korea’s rise in the global community. Perhaps because he was away from his homeland for a decade, he did not have a good understanding of Korea, struggling with low growth and inequality. Voters do not know why Ban wants to run for the presidency. Starting with an answer to that question, he must prove his will to power step by step.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 27, Page 30
*The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.