Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Feel The BAN

Each time BAN Ki-moon visits Korea, rumors of a presidential bid get louder, and this time has already set the bar even higher.

As we saw recently with that major 'bankimoonization' attempt (in "Descendants of the Sun(glasses)"), the first bullets have already been fired against a man whose popularity make all his rivals nervous.

Yet BAN owes more his popularity, in this utterly politically divided nation, to his no-drama style and prestigious job than to his substance. Actually, just days ago*, The Economist slammed BAN Ki-moon as "painfully ineloquent, addicted to protocol and lacking in spontaneity and depth", adding that he was "viewed as the dullest - and among the worst" U.N. Secretary-Generals. Ouch. Did they spare him a Godwin's Law moment only because one of his predecessors, Kurt Waldheim, already claimed it - and deservedly so?


Again, BAN has a lot to lose in joining the race for a job I wouldn't wish to my worst enemy. Furthermore, his commanding lead in the polls of last February has all but melted**. Should he still decide to run, he probably wouldn't announce it while in the most neutral of all offices, which would leave him almost a year to campaign until the 2017 elections.

Even if BAN has positioned himself above the right-and-left rift, he would need a real political machine to reach power, not just the personal foundation about to be established in his name (see "Speculations circle Ban’s presidential bid"), which will probably serve as a think tank and non-political vehicle.

As it happens, the leaderless Saenuri Party is looking for a uniting figure, particularly following its crushing defeat in recent legislative elections. Not everybody would welcome him there, and even conservative media like Chosun Ilbo mention The Economist's prosecution speech.

And as the ultimate kiss of death, more or less formal invitations to run for Saenuri have been issued by pro-PARK Geun-hye lawmakers, a godsend for rival parties, who can then say that if BAN runs now, that's under that highly unpopular and divisive banner.

That's exactly what PARK Jie-won did. An assembly leader representing the People's Party of AHN Cheol-soo, who also claims the 'uniter reaching across the aisle' sweet spot, PARK said: "BAN has considerable political ambitions, and if the pro-PARK Geun-hye faction in the ruling Saenuri Party rallies around him, he could run for president"***. In other words: if BAN runs, that's because he's not the one he says he is. 

PARK Jie-won's declaration was a bit more subtle than that of Seoul mayor PARK Won-soon, who all but advocated a 'BAN BAN' (as in 'ban BAN', not as in 'fifty-fifty' in Korean - 반반) by saying that BAN should respect the tradition of U.N. Secretary-Generals staying away from national governments after their mandates****.

Unlike AHN Cheol-soo, PARK Won-soon turned his critic in a negative way, and he delivered it himself instead of sending a lieutenant. Make it personal, or stay above the debate?

At least, to feed the buzz in Korea, you don't have to play it Trump-style.

Seoul Village 2016
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* see "Master, mistress or mouse?" (The Economist - 20160521)
** Yonhap-KBS (Feb 2016): BAN Ki-moon 28.3%, MOON Jae-in 17.9%. Realmeter (Apr 2016, right after the elections): MOON 42.8%, BAN 42.3% ("Moon, Ban in neck-and-neck race in poll")
*** "UN chief Ban could run for president under right conditions: opposition whip" (Yonhap News - 20160524)
**** "Seoul mayor says Ban should respect U.N. recommendation on political activities" (Yonhap News - 20160525)

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