Former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said today that he would not run for president of South Korea, a surprise announcement after weeks of laying the groundwork to run.
Ban, whose approval ratings have steadily fallen since his return to South Korea last month, cited “fake news” about him and his family among the reasons for his decision.
“For the past three weeks, I have devoted everything I had, but my genuine patriotism and passion were damaged by rumors and fake news,” Ban said in a hastily arranged press conference at the National Assembly after meeting with the leaders of three political parties. “Me, my family and the U.N. have been greatly hurt.”
Since his return last month, the 72-year-old had vowed to work for a “change in politics” and declared that he would “burn” himself for the nation. He had been visiting former presidents, kissing babies, shopping at markets and following Confucian rituals such as visiting graves. It was considered a matter of when, not if, he would announce his candidacy.
But he was mocked on the Internet for being out-of-touch with Korean society after a decade in New York, and his star power seemed to have lost much of its luster.
The latest poll, from the Segye Ilbo, showed him running at 13 percent, well behind Moon Jae-in, the progressive front-runner for the presidency whose approval rating has risen to 33 percent.
“I will give up my pure aspiration to achieve a change in politics under my leadership and unify the country,” Ban said.
The presidential election will be held some time this year, but it is not clear when.
Elections were set to be held in December, at the end of current president Park Geun-hye’s five-year term, but she is now facing impeachment. The constitutional court is deciding whether to uphold a National Assembly motion to impeach Park for her role in a corruption and influence-peddling scandal.
If Park is impeached, the next presidential election must be held within 60 days of the court’s decision.
Before the corruption scandal revolving around Park broke in October, Ban’s prospects for winning the presidency appeared strong and he was leading the polls, despite not having declared an intention to run.
But he has been hurt by his closeness to Park – the two had repeated meetings last year, which were viewed here as a sign that they were hatching a handover plan – and by allegations of corruption against those close to him.
The United States has indicted Ban’s younger brother and his nephew on charges of bribery related to the sale of a high-rise building in Vietnam, and it has asked South Korea to extradite them both. Ban denies any knowledge of such a scheme.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Anna Fifield