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[Newsmaker] 'Political fatigue' drove Ban to quit presidential race

For former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the three turbulent weeks following his return home was enough to decide not to enter the upcoming presidential race, in which he was once considered a leading contender.

Some speculated that he may have made his surprise decision because he had stalled in the polls, while others pointed out to the massive cost of running as an independent figure with no party affiliation.

But the main reasons the former top diplomat gave were emotional -- disappointment in partisan politics, anger with the reproachful media, and fatigue with campaign clashes.

“It is the people who suffer from the politicians’ divisions,” Ban told reporters Thursday, in front of his residence located in Sadang-dong, southern Seoul.“I hoped that I might (make a difference) if I held hands with those who shared my centrist and reformist visions, and this is why I have worked for during the past 20 days.”

His remarks came a day after he jolted the nation with his unheralded announcement that he would not run in the upcoming presidential election, an event which is likely to take place in the second quarter due to President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment.

Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Yonhap)
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (Yonhap)

“I have realized that politics has a particularly large influence on South Korea’s reality,” he said, describing politicians as having “underlying intentions.”

The former career diplomat’s tone carried his criticism of political circles, especially the conservative ones which have been competing to recruit him as their political standard bearer.

Ban’s implicit reproach of politicians gained further ground as his announcement to quit on the presidential race came just after he had met with leaders of the two conservative parties -- the ruling Saenuri Party and the recently formed Bareun Party.

“I was perplexed at the way that In offhandedly asked me whether I was a conservative or a progressive,” he said in answer to questions from reporters.

This referred to the visit Ban had paid to the Saenuri Party’s emergency committee chief, In Myung-jin, on Wednesday morning. The event took place in a tense mood, with the Saenuri chief alluding that Ban should give up on the election and Ban stressing the need for political reform.

The black-and-white logic, classifying thoughts into conservative and progressive, will eventually divide the people,” Ban said, letting out his disapproval over the conservative politicians’ approach.

“One who aspires for presidency should be able to embrace the entire nation, regardless of region, generation, social class.”

He did not say much about the Bareun Party, which was considered his most likely affiliation, but had repeatedly distanced himself from it, gesturing to remain on his own for a while.

Ban also blasted upon the attitude of the local media and of the rival opposition camp for finding fault with details which are extrinsic to his qualification as potential state leader.

“I don’t see how my choice of Evian (instead of a local brand bottled water) or lack of skill in buying a subway ticket should matter in the presidential election,” he said. “Yet, all these things make front page headlines.”

It was apparently amid such mounting fatigue that he decided to renounce his much-anticipated candidacy, without even telling his closest aides.

Only Kim Sook, former ambassador to the UN and closest aide to the former top diplomat, who had been given a heads up prior to the press conference, according to officials of Ban’s headquarters. Even Ban’s official spokesperson Lee Do-woon was unaware of the announcement until Ban delivered it in front of the cameras.

“I shall continue my efforts to change Korea’s politics, as one of the nation’s citizens and as a former chief official of the UN, but I intend to refrain from political activities,” he said, adding that he will not lean towards any specific party or candidate in the forthcoming presidential race.

By Bae Hyun-jung (tellme@heraldcorp.com)
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