Ban Ki-moon hints strongly at South Korean presidential bid

SEOUL - UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged to devote his life to the advancement of South Korea on Tuesday, sending the strongest signal yet that he might run in next year's presidential election.

"If what I have learned, seen and felt during my 10-year service as UN secretary-general could help advance Korea, I am more than willing to sacrifice myself for this cause," said Ban during a farewell press meeting with Korean reporters. His term ends on Dec. 31.

Though Ban has not clarified his bid for the 2017 presidential race - only saying that he has been "giving much thought" to the plan - the career diplomat's remarks were widely viewed as his strongest declaration for a presidential bid since he first hinted about the plan in May this year.

When asked about which political party he would represent, Ban highlighted that he would not be bound by establishment political groups, saying that "political parties are not important" and that "political leaders must think beyond themselves."

Such remarks added speculation that Ban - once considered to be a favourite for President Park Geun-hye and her loyalists from the governing Saenuri Party - would distance himself from the pro-Park faction whose approval ratings have plunged to a record-low amid the corruption and nepotism scandal tied to the president.

Some centrist political groups, meanwhile, have been urging Ban to join them in the hopes that Ban would expand their pool of supporters and energise moderate voters. Among them are Saenuri bigwigs critical of Park and leaders from the centrist People's Party.

"I think Ban could work with us," said Rep. Kim Dong-cheol, a leader of the People's Party on Wednesday. "Ban has a sufficient amount of experience for dealing with state affairs. We agree with his plan to use such experience for the country."

Since the Choi Soon-sil scandal first made headlines in October, Ban has stepped up criticism against the president for creating what he views as "the worst political turmoil" and for showing complete lack of governance during the crisis.

During Tuesday's remarks, Ban said that his criticism did not target specific political groups - such as President Park and her loyalists. But he added that the people were outraged over the lack of "good leadership," blaming the government for worsening the crisis.

Ban also defended himself against accusations by the main opposition Democratic Party that he had betrayed late President Roh Moo-hyun, who had elected him as head of the Foreign Ministry and campaigned for his bid to become UN chief in 2006.

"I have always thanked President Roh for tapping me as a presidential aide, minister of foreign affairs and UN secretary-general. Every New Year's Day, I have called Roh's spouse and paid a tribute to him," said Ban.

Democratic Party, however, showed Wednesday their disapproval of Ban's potential bid at the 2017 election, urging the UN chief to stay away from Korean politics and focus on finishing his term.

"I don't think it is desirable for Ban to think about entering politics," said Rep. Choo Mi-ae, leader of the Democratic Party. "Since South Korea's global reputation has taken a hit due to the Choi Soon-sil scandal, I hope Ban will just wrap up and finish his job on a sound note."