In many latest public opinion polls on the Presidential hopefuls in Korea, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations leads the race as the possible Presidential candidate of the ruling Saenuri Party. However, the margin is not that large these days compared with the past polls where Ban had won almost double the scores of the runners-up.
According to a latest survey conducted by Real Meter on June 6, 2016, Ban scored a 24.1% support, but the runner-up, former Chairman Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Minjoo Party, made a hot pursuit with a 23.2% support.
They were followed by President Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party with 11.9%, Seoul City Mayor Park Won-soon with 6.7%, former Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon (of Saenuri Party) with 5% and Chungcheongnam-do Provincial Governor Ahn Hee-jung (also Saenuri Party) with 4.2%--in that order.
The opinion survey results on the Presidential hopefuls continue to fluctuate and on a good number of occasions Ban won a double score of those of the runners-up as was briefly mentioned ealier.
So will Ban make it at the Presidential elections on Dec. 20, 2017?
As the survey figures show these days, Ban is the surest bet in the eyes of many people both in the ruling and opposition camps.
In particular, it appears that Ban’s victory is very much desired by all the people supporting President Park Geun-hye and the followers of her in the ruling Saenuri Party.
This, however, does not mean that all the different factions of the Saenuri Party are in full support of Ban. There are influential factions in the ruling party who support their party leaders such as Rep. Kim Moo-sung (former chairman) and Rep. Yoo Seung-min (former floor leader) who do not seem to enjoy the full support of President Park nowadays.
During the last National Assembly elections, the Saenuri Party even dropped Yoo from the list of the party candidates for the parliamentary elections last April, and so Yoo made it back to the Assembly as an independent candidate defeating the Saenuri Party candidates officially nominated by the ‘pro-Park royalists’ in the party.
President Park has met with UN Secretary General Ban on a number of different occasions and each time some political observers suspected that she might have Ban in mind in connection with the candidate of the ruling party for the upcoming Presidential elections in late next year, or at least her supporters in the party.
As things stand at this time, there is no one appearing as tall as Ban in the eyes of many people in Korea.
While Ban stands tall alone in the Korean political arena today, the opposition camp is split among Minju Party of Moon Jae-in, People’s Party of Ahn Cheol-soo and the Justice Party of Chairperson Shim Sang-jeong.
The public opinions of the Korean people on Ban, as reflected in the Korean media reports, are split. Here are some of the examples:
Ban popular as a government official, but faces tests as a politician
Joongang Ilbo (independent daily), May 26, 2016:
Mr. Ban Ki-moon has had appointed jobs vis-?-vis elected ones, where he has enjoyed a good measure of popularity. Such a fame, however, could become a mirage at the real battle ground where there is no government support.
Ban has no experience in the handling of economic issues or the problems involving the actual livelihood of the people.
It appears that the pro-Park faction in the Saenuri Party and the National Assembly members from the Chungcheong provinces appear to be all out in grooming Ban as the Saenuri Party Presidential candidate. They have not yet even made an adequate assessment of the cause of loss of the latest National Assembly elections.
Ban has seven more months to go as secretary general of the UN, and has an important responsibility to successfully fulfill his responsibilities as the UN chief.
Chosun Ilbo (conservative-oriented, independent daily, May 27, 2016):
As soon as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dropped hints that he might run in the 2017 Presidential elections, the potential candidates for the Presidential elections have become busy trying to calculate the advantages and disadvantages deriving from his joining in the Presidential race.
Followers of the main opposition Minjoo Party Presidential hopeful, Rep. Moon Jae-in, said that they had no particular comment to make on the situation but that Ban must have visited the hometown of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun. The late President Roh recommended Ban to become the UN secretary general.
The Saenuri Party leaders generally welcome the development and this is especially so in the case of the pro-Park faction in the party. They seem to believe that if Ban gets the support of the conservatives and the centrists as well as the people of his native Chuncheong provinces, he stands a very good chance of winning in the upcoming Presidential race on Dec. 20 next year.
So, what is the response of other leaders of the Saenri Party? Saenuri Presidential Hopeful Kim Moo-sung was asked for a comment on the candidacy of Ban as the ruling party Presidential candidate, Kim was quoted as saying, “I have no comment because Mr. Ban is still in active duty as the UN secretary general.”
There are reports that with Ban and Kim joining the Saenuri Party race for the official nomination of its Presidential candidate the competition will become lively and interesting to the voters. In this case, Kim could get spotlight in the course of heated competition among the Presidential hopefuls of the ruling camp.
Following UN Secretary General Ban’s dropping hints of his interest in joining the forthcoming Presidential elections at the Kwanhoon Journalists’ Club meeting with senior Korean journalists in Seoul on May 25, 2016, the Korean political arena has begun making active responses. The ruling Saenuri Party is generally in a welcoming mood but the opposition camp has immediately started showing offensive responses against Ban’s joining the Presidential race.
Acting Secretary General Hong Moon-pyo of the ruling Saenuri Party was quoted as saying, “Well, the opposition camp appears to be very much afraid of Mr. Ban whereas they have already started showing critical responses against Mr. Ban at this time when Mr. Ban has not yet even made it clear that he would run.” Hong said, “I would say that we will win if Mr. Ban comes to our party.”
Ban has to go through rigid tests of the people
Hankyoreh (opposition-oriented daily, May 27, 2016)
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon strongly indicated at the Gwanhun Club informal meeting on Jeju Island on May 25, 2016 that he would run in the Presidential elections on April 13 next year. Mr. Ban appeared very confident in the rising popularity of himself as secretary general of the United Nations.
However, Ban has to go through a series of rigid tests to make sure he has the correct understanding of the requirements of the times and the ability to address all the problems faced by the country.
To begin with, the position of the secretary general of the United Nations was not given to the person of Ban Ki-moon. The position was a share for the Republic of Korea at that time and the late President Roh Moo-hyun had had another person in mind for the position. It is all very well known at that time due to the sudden change of the personal circumstances of the first candidate Ban was given the job as a second choice.
This is why Mr. Ban should show how well he has been carrying out his duty as the UN secretary general. However, we have various negative reports of the international media on Ban.
The British business weekly, Economist, called Ban ‘one of the worst UN secretary generals.’ The verdict of the international community on Ban is not very generous. The experience and position of the UN secretary general, in the case of Ban, have been overly exaggerated in Korea.
Mr. Ban particularly stressed the importance of ‘unity of the people’ obviously as a key word in the Presidential elections. However, viewing his entire career, one has to question how much Mr. Ban has contributed all his life to the promotion of unity of the Korean people.
Furthermore, Mr. Ban did not even make a condolence visit at the time of the passage of the late President Roh Moo-hyun who had made Ban the UN secretary general. Two years later in August 2009, Ban attended the Jeju Peace Forum as a speaker but again he did not visit the tomb of the late former President Roh. Mr. Ban might have had in mind the Presidential candidate of the ruling camp in mind, but his attitude appears to be very far from one related with search for unity of the Koran people.
When Mr. Ban was a student at Harvard University in the United States in the 1980s, he reported to the Korean government on the activities of the late former President Kim Dae-jung while Kim was in the US in exile. On this, Mr. Ban says, “I only observed and reported the facts for the sake of the government and the country.”
This kind of excuse may be an excellent prevarication for a ‘soul-less’ diplomatic official of the government. However, considering the dark state of affairs in Korea at that time, Mr. Ban, for a person who wished to become the President of a country, appears to have been a person who seriously lacked proper understanding of the meaning of the times.
All told, it appears that there is a very rugged terrain ahead which Mr. Ban has to tread in the future.
What kind of scores has Ban won as UN secretary general?
Kyunghyang Shinmoon (moderate opposition daily, May 26, 2016):
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has literally stepped into the Presidential race in Korea. Having arrived in Korea to attend the Jeju Forum, Ban said, “On January 1 next year, I will become a Republic of Korea citizen. As to what I would do as a citizen of the ROK I would think about it at that time.” This was understood as a possibility of Ban’s offering himself as a Presidential candidate. Then he said, “I have not said anything on such a matter (Presidential candidacy) but I am grateful to the situation where talks of my possible Presidential candidacy has been spontaneously in circulation.” Ban also said that for the sake of unity of the state there should appear a person who is ready to give up everything for the sake of unity of the country.”
However, Korean citizens are asking: “Is Mr. Ban qualified for the President of the Republic of Korea?”
The UN General Assembly in January 1945 adopted a resolution that stipulates that the UN secretary general acquires various classified information of many different countries of the world and therefore immediately after retirement, the UN secretary general should not be offered a governmental position. It also states that for the secretary general himself it is desirable that the secretary general decline such a government position.
It is difficult to think that such UN General Assembly resolutions have a binding force. Too, of the total seven former secretaries general, Mr. Kurt Waldheim of Austria served his country as the President and Presidential Candidate Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru served his country as prime minister after his failure in the Presidential elections. However, in both cases it was four or five years after their retirement as the UN secretary general.
At the time of the election of the UN secretary general in 2006, the Korean government and people gave Ban the fullest extent of support. This was in expectation of improvement of the image of Korea in the outside world deriving from Ban’s election as the UN secretary general.
However, Mr. Ban has not been able to win a good evaluation for the past nine years as the UN chief. On top of this, if controversy develops regarding his desire of candidacy for the Presidential election, it could bring a damage to his image as UN chief and also the image of the Republic of Korea, his motherland.
The big job that Mr. Ban has today is not so much his Presidential election campaign as establishing a good record of his activities as UN chief for the rest of his tenure of office of the last seven months.
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