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2015-04-17 15:45
Ban Ki-moon / Yonhap

By Oh Young-jin


How do we define a lie?

Would you still call it a lie if circumstances force one to break a promise he has every intention to keep?

Let’s take into consideration a given extenuating situation, and include it in the category of white lies.  Then, I dare say that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will end up with one.

Or, if he doesn’t, the burden of a lie should be on my conscience.

By now, you should know what I want to talk about.

It’s about Ban’s future, after he serves out his second term at the world body.

After recent reports linked Ban to the late tycoon Sung Woan-jong, who is at the center of a mushrooming corruption scandal, Ban was quoted by Yonhap News Agency as saying that he had nothing to do with Sung and that he has no interest in politics back home.

Ban’s stance deviates little from what he said through his spokesmen when The Korea Times reported that he had tested the waters for a potential presidential bid in 2017 through an aide.

His spokesmen denied it, saying that Ban was too busy handling his U.N. duties to think about anything else.

Pressed to explain whether he definitely would not run for the presidency, his spokesmen issued a statement that was a little short of convincing.

Of course, I will admit this much: If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then interpretation can be entirely at the discretion of the listener.

I may be reading too much into it, but maybe not.

Why am I betting on Ban ending up on the presidential ticket?

First, I dare say that Korea needs a leader who is different from the series of presidents we have recently had.

We have seen no presidents who were capable of having people rally around him or her since President Park Chung-hee, father of Park Geun-hye, the current president.

A disclaimer is that the late Park imposed unity on the impoverished nation with a mixture of authoritarianism and economic benefits.  

The late President Kim Dae-jung, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, tried to cash in on his years as a victim of dictatorship to unite the nation through his audacious attempt to reconcile with North Korea, but his so-called Sunshine Policy failed.

In hindsight, his reign can be looked at as a new normal in which division and antipathy are taken for granted.

Then, his liberal successor, Roh Moo-hyun, indeed tried to become the ordinary people’s president, but that also backfired. 

Lee Myung-bak, Roh’s successor, tried to be a CEO president, but his legacy is riddled with stories of corruption and incompetence.

As for Park Geun-hye, we may have to be satisfied that, as things stand, her being the first woman president will be her biggest presidential legacy.

One thread that commonly connects them all is their lack of ability to bring direction back to the nation.

We need somebody to rally around, irrespective of our political beliefs and regional allegiances. Ban may have what it takes to be “the one,” in Matrix parlance.

I don’t blame Ban for fearing that his good name may be tainted in round after round of mudslinging he has to deal with as soon as he declares his bid for the presidency.

Besides, there are no guarantees that he would become president.

He could enjoy an easy retirement, resigning himself to the role of an elder statesman in global politics, and making a great deal of money by joining a high-powered speaking circuit.

He may want to be another Kofi Annan perhaps (a wrong choice of comparison!).

But I wonder how Ban would respond if his compatriots asked him what he has done for his country that has made him what he is.

This is at once a powerful question and a strong call for duty. Would, and could, he ignore it?

I would understand it if Ban wants to be cagey, taking into account how so many promising talented people in Korean politics have been turned into political zombies. But he knows he has been through a lot and we may need his experience come December 2017. 

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