Can Ban Ki-moon stabilize the chaotic situation in South Korea?

By Zhang Jingwei
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, January 9, 2017
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It seems that former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will not have a peaceful and relaxed retirement. Allegations that Choi Soon-sil, President Park Geun-hye's longtime confidante, used her ties to meddle in state affairs and wielded improper influence - the "Choi-gate" scandal as it's being called - has put the South Korean president in a difficult situation, and her country is now facing a post-Park era.

The chaotic scramble for power means that Park Geun-hye's presidency currently exists in name only. Once the constitutional court rules on her removal from office, South Korea faces an urgent presidential election and politicians from all parties have already fixed their eyes on the throne.

Ban Ki-moon, who has just moved out of the UN building, is among the favorites.

Recent South Korean opinion polls show support for him remaining persistently high. Although he still hasn't announced his candidacy, he has spoken of his willingness to serve his country.

Politicians opposing Park Geun-hye have formed an entity called the "New Conservative Party for Reform (NCPR)" that has been wooing Ban Ki-moon to be its candidate.

Ban Ki-moon's likely decision to run will not only stir up the country's troubled political waters, but also make other politicians feel threatened. Presently, there are three other leading candidates, namely Moon Jae-in, former chairman of the main opposition Minjoo Party; Ahn Cheol-soo, former chief of the minor opposition People's Party; and Lee Jae-myeong, mayor of Seongnam.

Although he hasn't yet publicly announced whether he will run or not, Ban Ki-moon is already being treated as a challenger by his rivals. With a resounding reputation as the former UN Secretary General and a high public support rate, Ban poses a major threat to them.

Because of this, Ban came under attack from other politicians long before he returned home. On Dec. 28, a South Korea media outlet exposed Ban's involvement in a religious cult group after a video footage showed him with Kim Nam-hee, the cult's head. The Mayor of Seongnam Lee Jae-myeong has even claimed that Ban Ki-moon accepted bribes, and so is not eligible to run.

The "Choi-gate" scandal has been disastrous for the country. Historically, the South Korean people are easily encouraged to riot, and their trust in government has fallen to the lowest possible levels. The ruling party has suffered setbacks, while the opposition party is not in the best shape either.

South Korean mainstream media outlets and the public have both expressed their dissatisfaction with the opposition parties, who are accused of making use of the ruling party's misfortune to serve their own ends. The South Korean people want their country back on track as soon as possible.

Thus, at this critical moment, it is understandable that the people want to choose Ban Ki-moon, untainted by political scandals and relatively independent from domestic politics, in the hope that he will be able to bring order out of chaos.

But will Ban Ki-moon be able to get rid of the curse of Korean politics in which many former South Korean presidents, including Roh Moo-hyun, all came to a tragic end?

South Korea is a traditional society that sets great store on human relationships. There are inescapable relationships between politicians and entrepreneurs. The interests are often linked through politicians' families and trusted followers. Once a conspiracy is unmasked, it becomes a political crisis.

Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun all belonged to progressive forces, while Jin Yong-san, Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye belong to the conservative camp. Compared with these predecessors, Ban Ki-moon has a global vision due to his rich experience in the United Nations, and he has few ties with the domestic political and business circles.

He will likely be more rational and pragmatic in dealing with the complicated geopolitical situation and relations between big powers in northeast Asia and more objective in dealing with relations with North Korea.

However, from South Korean Foreign Minister to the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon lacks domestic political experience to a certain extent. Political battles are commonplace in South Korea, and whether he can begin well and end well is still unknown.

Zhang Jingwei is a researcher with the Charhar Institute and a visiting research fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

The article was translated by Li Jingrong from an unabridged version published in Chinese.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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