In a surprising announcement, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon dropped his presidential bid in his home country of South Korea on Wednesday, blaming “fake news” and political slander.
Mr. Ban had been considered the only major prospective conservative contender in the possible presidential election since the Parliament impeached President Park Geun-hye amid a massive corruption scandal in December. Ban’s withdrawal gave liberal candidate Moon Jae-in an unexpected boost.
At a hastily arranged news conference at the National Assembly, Ban said he had hoped to use his 10 years of experience working at the United Nations to “achieve a change in politics” and “unify the country.”
“For the past three weeks, I have devoted everything I had, but my genuine patriotism and passion were damaged by rumors and fake news,” he said after meeting with leaders of three political parties, according to The Washington Post.
This unexpected move also comes as Ms. Park goes on trial at the Constitutional Court, facing a decision that could either confirm her impeachment or restore her back to power. If she is removed, presidential elections, which were initially scheduled for December, will be held within two months.
Moon, the front-runner of the progressive People's Party and a former human rights lawyer, said he was caught off guard by Ban’s decision, but said he is willing to seek Ban’s advice on international affairs.
“Ban's experience in foreign policy and international politics should be actively used for our country,” he told reporters.
Despite high anticipation about Ban’s presidency run when he returned to his country on Jan. 12 – with a hero’s welcome that was broadcast live on television – he has faced growing scrutiny from the media over his political competence and corruption allegations, while seeing his popularity further decline in opinion surveys.
While his approval ratings regularly came in at the top of the polls, they have been steadily declining since October, falling to 13 percent, about 20 points behind Moon.
On Jan. 18, struggling to defuse media criticism on his reform plans, Ban used an insulting Korean term to describe journalists as they questioned his ties with the current president. In 2015, he supported Park’s controversial deal with Japan over the “comfort women” issue, referring to Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II. Last year, he met with Park several times, which some Koreans considered a sign that they were preparing a secret handover plan.
Amid the conservative party’s current tumultuous scandal, Ban was also forced to defend himself as two of his relatives were indicted on charges of plotting bribery in the United States. He denied any knowledge of the alleged criminal activities. He also repeatedly denied the media’s allegations that he received bribes while serving as the foreign minister, a corruption scandal that led to the suicide of former President Roh Moo-hyun in 2009.
"I was also very disappointed by old-fashioned, narrow-minded egoistic attitudes by some politicians, and I came to a conclusion that it would be meaningless to work together with them," he said.
Ban is not the first UN chief to turn his back on elected politics after leaving the world organization. Neither Boutros Boutros-Ghali nor Ghana’s Kofi Annan chose to run for office in their respective countries.
This report includes material from the Associated Press.