Ban`s regional trip kindles rumors of presidential run [2016/06/08 11:27]

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon`s six-day trip in South Korea would have been just a routine visit by the world`s top diplomat to his home state -- if not for the growing anticipation on his potential run in the 2017 presidential election.

Instead, Ban found himself at the center of national attention. Ever since the 71-year-old diplomat hinted on Wednesday at the possibility of his foray into politics, following his previous 10-year tenure, his every step has been interpreted to take on a political connotation.

Ban`s presidential scenario seemed to gain further momentum on Sunday when he visited Hahoe folk village, a UNESCO World Heritage site near Andong in North Gyeongsang Province. The southeastern region is viewed as a political hometown to conservative politicians including President Park Geun-hye.

Upon arriving at the historical site, he had a luncheon with local leaders and prominent politicians such as North Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Kwan-yong and the Saenuri Party`s chief policymaker Rep. Kim Kwang-lim.

“Not only does the trip show his enthusiasm toward a potential bid, but it also tells us his strategy for the next election,” said Yoon Hee-woong, a senior researcher at Opinion Live, a Seoul-based political consulting firm.

One of the strategies that Ban might have in minds Yoon said, is regional coalition between the conservative Gyeongsang region and Ban`s hometown Chungcheong provinces. “Though the regional coalition is not as strong as it used to be, it still carries significant impact,” he said.

The Chungcheong area, politically positioned between the conservative Gyeongsang and the liberal Jeolla regions, has served as a bellwether electorate through the decades. Since the 1992 presidential election, the candidates who gathered the largest votes there ended up victorious in the national race.

In an apparent move to consolidate his political base, Ban met on Saturday with former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil. The 90-year-old Chungcheong-born politician had exercised his sway to help Jeolla native then-presidential candidate Kim Dae Jung beat his conservative counterpart Lee Hoi-chang in the 1997 election.

“We discussed secret issues,” said the former prime minister after the 30-minute closed-door meeting. Ban told reporters that the two Chungchung natives mostly exchanged pleasantries such as about Ban`s work at the multinational organization.

Faced with escalating talks over Ban`s alleged political ambitions, his close aides, mostly consisting of former foreign ministers and high-ranking ambassadors, have described Ban`s run for the 2017 race as a “likely” choice, but reiterated that no decision had yet been made.

“The likelihood of Ban running for the presidential election is higher than before (his visit to Korea),” said Oh Joon, South Korea`s ambassador to the U.N, who have accompanied most of Ban`s trips to South Korea.

But the ambassador added that Ban`s shifted stance toward the local politics does not mean he would enter the politics to run for the 2017 race.

“He currently sees his run for the election as one of the possible options, which is a change from his previous position,” Oh said.

Political parties wasted no time in responding to Ban`s highly politicized trip. While the Saenuri Party raised expectations that the U.N. chief would run as its candidate, the opposition bloc denounced the move as a desperate attempt to overcome a lack of prominent candidates in the ruling party.

The Minjoo Party of Korea`s former floor leader Rep. Lee Jong-kul on Sunday urged Ban to forgo his presidential bid as a Saenuri candidate, saying that his legacy as the U.N. chief would “go down the drain” should he run for the 2017 race.

“Ban appears to move up the calendar for the presidential election,” said political analyst Yoon.

“Since his popularity could constrain the rise of prospective candidates, other presidential hopefuls will be forced to make political actions before Ban officially establishes himself as a candidate,” he said.
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