Ban is not Saenuri’s answerUnited Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, whose every step and word raised a stir in political circles and sent commentators looking for signs of political connotation, tried recently to undercut speculations about his bid for the presidency.
He emphasized his visit to Korea had no personal or political relevance. He returned to New York and ended his closely-followed six-day stay at home, asking his off-the-record talks not to be overstated and pleading for public support so that he could finish his remaining second term as UN chief.
Ban’s itinerary in Korea was meticulously arranged. He said he would speak on his post-retirement plans after he returns to Korea upon completing his term in New York on Jan. 1.
He nevertheless expressed hope that his countrymen wouldn’t forget him during his absence and warned politicians that his running for presidency should be considered a variable.
His talks and the media attention he himself invited hardly befit the position of the highest neutral position at a world organization, with seven months left in his tenure.
The hubbub about Ban becoming part of the equation in the presidential race underscores the lack, or even barrenness, of eligible candidates in Korean politics.
The career diplomat has never set foot in politics and spent the last decade overseas. Even if he had any political ambition, he could not have easily dreamed about his chances if domestic politics were stable and he had public confidence.
The upsurge of Ban’s popularity stemmed more from public anxiety and skepticism about political impotence than the UN chief’s own aspirations.
The Minjoo Party of Korea responded hyper-sensitively, with former floor leader Lee Jong-kul proclaiming it would be catastrophic for the nation if someone like Ban becomes president. A mudslinging campaign was launched even before Ban formally joined the race.
The Saenuri Party is even more pitiful, trying to do everything to woo him to run as their candidate. The party’s floor leader, Chung Jin-suk, and other heavyweight members surrounded Ban as soon as he set foot in the country, and other members from North Gyeongsang province all made appearances at events in which Ban took part.
Why the Saenuri Party thinks Ban would join their party is also questionable, as he had served as a foreign minister and was pitched as UN secretary general candidate while serving under President Roh Moo-hyun, whose political roots lie with the Minjoo Party.
The Saenuri Party is more or less admitting it lacks any formidable candidate from its own party. It has lost even the most traditional conservative support base because of its factional dispute.
But the party is underestimating voters if it thinks it can win them back simply by getting Ban on its team instead of carrying out reforms. The only way for the Saenuri Party to recover public confidence before it’s too late is to completely disband the mainstream faction loyal to the president and pursue party reform.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 31, Page 30