South Korea’s deepening scandal could hamper Ban Ki-moon’s 2017 presidential ambitions
The scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye’s long-time confidant Choi Soon-sil is expected to affect outgoing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s decision whether to launch a presidential bid in 2017.
Ban, who has been rumoured to be backed by Park as the ruling Saenuri Party candidate, has suffered a fall in popularity in the latest polls of presidential hopefuls as the scandal escalates. It has called the ethics of the President into question and triggered a leadership crisis for her, which may negatively affect Ban’s reputation as well.
Analysts said Sunday that Ban may try to distance himself from Park and Saenuri Party. They speculated that the UN chief may consider diverse options, if he wants to engage in politics after quitting the UN, such as joining hands with centre-right conservatives from the Saenuri Party’s minor factions and the minor opposition People’s Party.
Although he never explicitly showed interest in running for presidency, Ban has left the possibility open. In an interview with Reuters on October 21, he said, “I should make myself available for a better future of Korea that I am conscious of” when his UN tenure ends in December
“Ban will be wary of the impact of the Choi Soon-sil gate on his popularity,” said Choi Chang-ryul, a professor of political science at Yongin University. “He is likely to opt for a third way to avoid failure in his possible presidency.”
Ban, who has been the favoured potential candidate for the 2017 presidential election, was still the runaway leader with 21.5 per cent in a survey taken by Realmeter October 24 to 26.
Ban’s favourability rating, however, was down 0.7 percentage points from a week earlier, while runner-up Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) enjoyed a 0.8 percentage point increase for 19.7 per cent support.
During the same period, the approval rating of the President fell to her lowest at 17.5 per cent since she took office in February 2013. In a separate poll jointly conducted by Media Today and STI on October 26, Ban allowed Moon the lead of 24 per cent to 37 per cent in a hypothetical three-way presidential race involving Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, a presidential hopeful for the People’s Party.
A survey jointly taken by Hankyoreh and Hankook Research October 25 to 26 showed that the popularity of the Saenuri Party was behind the DPK 25.4 per cent to 30.7 per cent, respectively.
“Although he did not acknowledge it, people think of Ban as a pro-Park candidate in the 2017 election. And he will need a strategy to overcome such an image considering Park is unlikely to find an exit to create fresh momentum in handling state affairs and that the pro-Park forces in the Saenuri Party will lose ground,” said Shin Yul, a political science professor at Myongji University.
Choi speculated that Ban may join forces with Ahn Cheol-soo, the People’s Party’s presidential hopeful who is also seen as a centre-right politician. “It’s too early to predict what steps Ban will take, but joining hands with Ahn can be a possible option,” he said.
Since last week, a string of evidence has poured in against Choi, who has been friends with the President for decades. She allegedly had access to presidential documents and state secrets despite not holding any official position at Cheong Wa Dae or other security-related government organisations.