UN Chief Ban Ki-moon Signals Willingness to Seek Korea Presidency

  • Yonhap reports Ban saying he can’t yet give definitive answer
  • Ban to return to Korea in January to country shaken by scandal

Ban Ki-moon.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday gave the strongest signal yet that he’s willing to run for president in his native South Korea.

Ban said he’d be inclined to run if his decade-long experience as UN head "can be of help to the country,” Yonhap News reported him telling Korean reporters in New York. The 72-year-old said he would “burn” himself if it could help his nation -- drawing on a Korean idiom that indicates uncompromising dedication to a cause -- it said.

Even so, he said he couldn’t give a definitive answer before his tenure as UN chief expires Dec. 31, Yonhap said.

After serving two consecutive terms as UN chief, the former South Korean foreign minister plans to return home in January to a country tipped into political turmoil by a corruption scandal that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. He stands in second place in polls of potential candidates behind Moon Jae-in, former chief of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

Ban, a career diplomat who served under President Roh Moo-hyun, advocates dialogue with North Korea and hasn’t previously engaged in domestic politics. His prominence on the global stage has boosted his popularity among voters disillusioned with career politicians at home.

For more on why Park was impeached

Ban said he will decide on a timeline and process for entering domestic politics after meeting the Korean people, saying that what they want is "especially important," Yonhap said. He added that political party affiliation "is not important."

Ban will make his decision after he returns to Korea and discusses it with his friends and family, spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters. Deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, “I’m not aware that he has said anything about a run for the presidency.”

Why South Korea's Terrible Times Aren't Over Yet

Early Election

South Korea’s constitutional court has up to six months to review whether parliament’s impeachment of Park is legal, and the president is suspended from power during this period. If it rules in favor, an election will follow in 60 days -- earlier than the scheduled date in December 2017.

South Korea’s next president would face challenges ranging from North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to a slowing economy and record unemployment among young South Koreans.

The ruling Saenuri party remains in disarray after Park’s impeachment. A Seoul court on Monday opened a trial for Park’s longtime friend, Choi Soon-sil, who is accused of colluding with Park to extract tens of millions of dollars from conglomerates.

Prosecutors also say Choi meddled in government affairs through her private relationship with the president. Both Choi and Park deny wrongdoing while they admit to sharing state documents.

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