Scan­dal, gaffes mar Ban’s pres­i­den­tial prospects

Lesotho Times - - International -

SEOUL — It has been an in­aus­pi­cious re­turn to cri­sis-plagued South Korea for for­mer U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, once the odds-on fa­vorite to be the next pres­i­dent, who has been en­snared in a fam­ily cor­rup­tion scan­dal and strug­gled with a skep­ti­cal press.

Ban (72) has been un­able to cap­i­tal­ize on his much-an­tic­i­pated home­com­ing af­ter a decade as sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the United Na­tions in New York. Since his re­turn on Jan. 12, he has cut a some­times-ir­ri­ta­ble fig­ure in pub­lic and been pil­lo­ried for a se­ries of per­ceived PR gaffes - all with­out an­nounc­ing any in­ten­tion to run for pres­i­dent.

Now the United States has asked South Korea to ar­rest his brother, Ban Ki-sang, on charges that he en­gaged in a bribery scheme to carry out the sale of a Viet­namese build­ing com­plex.

The tim­ing of the case could hardly be worse for Ban, whose high in­ter­na­tional pro­file and clean im­age were ex­pected to be as­sets as he re­turned to a na­tion reel­ing from a pres­i­den­tial cor­rup­tion scan­dal. Pres­i­dent Park Geun-hye has been im­peached by par­lia­ment and stripped of her pow­ers while a court de­cides her fate.

Ban Ki-moon apol­o­gized on Satur­day for fam­ily mem­bers who had caused pub­lic con­cern. “I have ab­so­lutely no knowl­edge of this case,” he said in a state­ment.

How­ever, a Real­me­ter poll re­leased on Mon­day showed Ban’s sup­port slip­ping from 22.2 per­cent last week to 19.8 per­cent, com­pared with 29.1 per­cent for Moon Jae-in of the op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Party.

The poll num­bers are volatile and an­a­lysts say it is too early to count out Ban. How­ever, if Moon holds his lead, he would be­come the first lib­eral to be elected pres­i­dent in nearly a decade.

Ban has yet to af­fil­i­ate him­self with a party but had been ex­pected to run as a con­ser­va­tive.

If the im­peach­ment vote against Park is up­held by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, she will have to quit and an elec­tion would be held two months later. A rul­ing is ex­pected as soon as next month.

Ban has a team of politi­cians and for­mer diplo­mats sup­port­ing him and has made sev­eral cam­paign-style ap­pear­ances around the coun­try since his re­turn, pitch­ing him in the full glare of the me­dia spot­light. Slip-ups On his ar­rival in Seoul, Ban took the air­port ex­press train in­stead of a limo, but didn’t know how to buy a ticket. He was pic­tured try­ing to in­sert two 10,000 won bills into the ma­chine at the same time for a 7,500 won ticket.

“Couldn’t you have treated it as some­thing cute from a per­son who’d been in New York for a long time?” he protested at a meet­ing with vot­ers and re­porters in the south­ern city of Daegu. “I re­ally wish they wouldn’t act with mal­ice.”

Two days later, Ban vis­ited a care home where he fed por­ridge to an old woman. He was crit­i­cized for wear­ing a bib when the old woman was not - and for feed­ing some­one ly­ing flat on their back.

He also dressed head to toe in pro­tec­tive gear to try out a dis­in­fec­tant spray when most of those around him wore or­di­nary clothes, me­dia said. And he was crit­i­cized for pick­ing up a bot­tle of Evian min­eral wa­ter from a con­ve­nience store be­fore be­ing told by an aide he should buy a lo­cal prod­uct.

A car­toon in the left-lean­ing Hanky­oreh news­pa­per man­aged to com­bine the gaffes — Ban in pro­tec­tive gear and bib try­ing to feed a hos­pi­tal pa­tient with two 10,000 won notes with a gi­ant bot­tle of Evian on his back.

Un­til re­cently, Ban had been tipped to run as a mem­ber of Park’s con­ser­va­tive Saenuri party.

But be­ing a Saenuri can­di­date looks far less at­trac­tive now be­cause of the cor­rup­tion scan­dal and he has been seen as likely to join a new break­away group from the con­ser­va­tive bloc, the Barun Party, which has been weigh­ing sev­eral po­ten­tial can­di­dates for pres­i­dent.

How­ever, a party, funds and po­lit­i­cal ma­chin­ery to sup­port Ban could come to­gether quickly if and when he an­nounces he will run for pres­i­dent.

Kook­min Uni­ver­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Hong Sung-gul said Ban must be dis­ap­pointed by his re­cep­tion.

“That’s what hap­pens when there are high ex­pec­ta­tions and you don’t come in with a clear and spe­cific mes­sage,” he told Reuters.

“But it is too early to write off his cam­paign as be­ing in se­ri­ous trou­ble.”

Ban him­self ad­mit­ted on Mon­day to some “clumsy mo­ments” and ir­ri­tabil­ity since his re­turn.

“I was im­pa­tient and had pas­sion for want­ing to go and meet the peo­ple as soon as I could, so there were lit­tle mis­takes,” he told re­porters.

“I’ll take it as a tough les­son learned and try to be bet­ter pre­pared.”

— Reuters

For­mer UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral Ban Ki-moon feeds an el­derly woman at a so­cial wel­fare fa­cil­ity in eum­seong, South Korea on 14 Jan­uary 2017.

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