February 02, 2017 09:25
Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday abruptly announced that he is giving up his presidential bid.
"I will give up my pure aspiration to achieve a change in politics under my leadership and unify the country," Ban said at a hastily arranged press conference.
Ban led opinion polls along with former Minjoo Party leader Moon Jae-in with a 20-percent approval rating shortly after his return to Korea on Jan. 12, but by Wednesday that had slid to just 13.1 percent.
During his tireless itinerary across the country for the last 20 days, he has made several blunders. His hopes were also damaged by a scandal involving his brother and nephew, who are accused of trading on his name in a property deal that went farcically wrong.
The center-right camp was in shock after losing its top presidential hopeful. Fatally damaged by the massive corruption scandal that has brought down President Park Geun-hye, conservatives will now have to look for another candidate to rally behind.
Ban's announcement was unexpected since he had still been meeting with various senior conservative figures on Wednesday morning. They included In Myung-jin, the interim leader of Park's rump Saenuri Party, and Choung Byoung-gug, head of the breakaway Bareun Party.
Just half an hour before the announcement he met with Justice Party leader Sim Sang-jung.
The meetings seem to have gone badly.
"I was very frustrated by parochial, selfish attitudes, and reached a conclusion that it is meaningless to move forward with them," he said. "My aim, coming out of a pure sense of patriotism, was sabotaged by slander and fake news. It only undermined my reputation and the honor of the UN, which I served for 10 years."
Instead, Bareun Party lawmaker Yoo Seung-min and Gyeonggi Province Governor Nam Kyung-pil have announced their presidential bids from the conservative camp, while Saenuri is nudging acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn to run for the top office. But Yoo and Nam's approval ratings are in the single digits, while Hwang mostly enjoys support among die-hard Park supporters.
People's Party lawmaker Ahn Cheol-soo hopes that Ban's exit will bring more supporters to his side and result in a race between him and Moon.
Pundits now expect centrist and conservative groups to join forces.
Moon, who is now the frontrunner, faces another challenge from South Chungcheong Province Governor Ahn Hee-jung, who announced his presidential bid last week and may absorb voters from the central province who had been supporting Ban, a native of the region.
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