Ban Ki-Moon will be leaving his post and returning to South Korea in mid-January.  He is on his farewell tour now.  He just visited Obama and praised him for his environmental position which addressed climate change.  In response, Obama compared Ban to a baseball hitter that hits .300 (Mr. Consistency) and praised Ban for U.N.-sponsored actions on behalf of refugees and migrants.

For Obama's 54th birthday present, Ban gave him this calligraphy cloth.

But hitting .300 requires making contact with some curve balls thrown his way.  Korea’s observers have been hanging on Ban’s every word to see whether he would announce his candidacy to replace Park Geun-Hye (it is assumed that Park will have to step down in April).  Ban’s speeches are being scoured now to see which way he might be leaning.

They are particularly focusing on the speech Ban gave at the Council of Foreign Relations last week.  He said, “people are very much frustrated and angry about the complete lack of good governance … they believed that the … [c]ountry was betrayed.

There really isn’t much here except his criticism of Park Geun-Hye for her lack of “good governance.” But some people think he is ready to throw his hat into the ring very soon, as early as next Tuesday.

Here’s Ban’s predicament. He is clearly interested in running.  If he isn’t, he would have said so.  At the same time, he doesn’t want to seem too eager. Being too ambitious is not considered nice in Korea or anywhere else for that matter — especially when you’ve already been Secretary General of the U.N. for 10 years.  You don’t want to give the impression of being “power-hungry.” Remember the embarrassment Alexander Haig suffered after saying, “I’m in control here.”

Al Haig after Reagan was shot by Hinckley: "I'm in charge here."

But here’s the reality if Ban does decide to run.  He would have to compete in a wide open field filled with younger candidates; Ban is 72. Yes, he would have to serve only one five-year term and he is only two years older than Trump who, presumably, would run for his second term, as is customary for sitting U.S. presidents.  However, it would be enormously embarrassing to run and lose, especially to someone who should be paying homage to him as Korea’s grey eminence.  Resting on his laurels is probably what Ban’s wife had in mind upon retiring from the U.N. post.  However, her opinion probably doesn’t count much, even though she has reportedly threatened to divorce him if he decides to run.

Ban's wife, Yoo Soon-Taek, reportedly threatened to divorce her husband of 45 years.

So whether Ban will run or not will depend on one and only one thing: his chances of winning. The last poll had Moon Jae-In with the highest support (24%) with Ban coming in second (21%). However, things can change rapidly. Moon is probably polling well by taking advantage of the anti-Park sentiment. Lee Jae-Myung (이재명) is now gaining some momentum and he could erode Moon’s support if his numbers continue to improve. However, Ban may have to contend with Chung Woon-Chan (정운찬), who hails from his home base and could split some of his support from that central region of South Korea. Ban will look at these factors carefully before making any commitment.

If Ban decides to run, the biggest question is which party he will join.  The ruling Saenuri Party is being split into two factions and there might be a new party organized by those who voted to impeach Park.  Will such a party be viable after the split, especially in terms of attracting enough voters?  If Ban joins the new Saenuri Party, can he compete with Moon Jae-In?  Can he count on either Ahn Cheol-Soo or Lee Jae-Myung to stay in the race and gain momentum at the expense of Moon, improving his chances in the process?  Will he have to run as an independent?

Ban's at #2: not bad. He can improve when Lee cuts into Moon's support base.


So there is really nothing for Ban to do but sit pretty.  He may seem coy but he’s always been known as a “slippery eel”(기름장어) who went to great lengths to seem inscrutable. Putting oneself in his shoes, however, this is really the only position to take.  Make appropriate noises about “governance,” “listening to people” and criticize Park Geun-Hye, as he must in this climate. See if the polls come back up for him and whether there is a party for him to join.

What Ban is doing right now is gauging his support and evaluating his paths to victory. He clearly would like to become president.  But he doesn’t want to go through an acrimonious campaign like the one that just took place in the U.S. His wife won’t especially like that. If possible, he wants to win easy.  The worst possible outcome for him is to run and lose.  At his age and given what he has achieved, it would be mortifying.

Ban has always been slippery - that's why his Korean nickname is 'slippery eel(油鰻).' YT screen linked to source.

The Choi Soon-Sil scandal may well help him, even though his numbers came down and Moon’s went up in the immediate aftermath. After a month or two, voters will probably prefer someone untainted by domestic politics — that is, an outsider. Moon already ran once and is considered an “old hat.”  Others in the field may be considered too left-leaning or “lightweight,” especially when compared to Ban.  As a career diplomat who served in the Roh Moo-Hyun regime but never ran for elective office, Ban can still paint himself as an outsider.  That, we suspect, would be his path to victory, as it was for another outsider who unexpectedly claimed the U.S. election in November.

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