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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Jan. 14)

All News 09:09 January 14, 2017

Ban's rush for power
Former UN head still untested politician

Ban Ki-moon, the first Korean to serve as U.N. secretary-general, returned home Thursday amid speculation he will run for the presidency.

Although assessment of his decade as U.N. chief is divided, it is undeniable he is among the most successful Korean diplomats. He deserves a pat on the back for his service at the world body and a warm welcome for his contributions to raising Korea's global status by playing a central role in international politics and diplomatic negotiations over 10 years.

However, many Koreans are taken aback by the career diplomat's sudden rush for power. Although he has not lived in Korea in 10 years, he has consistently taken the top place in favorability polls among potential frontrunners for the presidency. And there is the possibility for an early presidential election depending on how the Constitutional Court rules on the National Assembly's impeachment last month of President Park Geun-hye. Given these circumstances, Ban is rushing into a possible political career despite some lingering doubts on his competence and integrity.

Although Ban said he has yet to declare his bid for the presidency, his arrival speech at Incheon International Airport sounded a lot like a campaign rally. He told a group of supporters he has the experience and vision to unite the country and help those in need. He said he will lift the spirits of the young and advance the people's livelihoods. But he became agitated when asked about some touchy issues, such as a possible violation of a U.N. rule that urges former U.N. chiefs to refrain from holding any governmental position immediately on retirement. He said he was waiting for the U.N.'s opinion on his potential bid for the presidency.

There is no precedent of a former U.N. head running for president, so Ban would be the first to violate this rule if he declares his will to go after the country's top elected office. Even without the U.N.'s official position, it is wrong for him from a common sense point of view to jump into politics right after leaving the U.N.

The arrival speech and the subway ride back to his old apartment in Sadang-dong, southern Seoul, seemed like a well-staged political show. Ban said Korea needs a "change of politics" rather than a "change of power," but his first day in Korea after 10 years in New York showed little promise that Ban will be unlike existing politicians who have made people sick of politics. The most disappointing aspect of his speech was that he refused to speak clearly about corruption allegations surrounding him and his family. He only said he has never done anything to shameful in his life and he will not tolerate any behavior that undermines his "sincerity" and "selfless decision" for the country.

Ban's brother and his nephew have been accused of bribing a Middle Eastern official to push through the multimillion dollar sale of a building in Vietnam. They were charged with corruption, money laundering and conspiracy shortly before Ban left New York. Such news is hugely embarrassing, but Ban distanced himself from the alleged bribery case by saying he knew nothing about it. There are also rumors that Ban received money from a businessman convicted of corruption in 2005 and 2007.

Despite his lack of experience in politics, Ban seemed full of confidence that he knows how to get the country back on track. But he still has much to prove before he can honestly tell voters he is a qualified and trustworthy candidate.

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