Former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, one of the world's most recognised South Koreans, announced Wednesday he will not stand for the presidency of his country.
Ban returned home last month after a decade in New York and was widely expected to run in elections due this year, but his putative candidacy ran into a series of stumbles.
"I will withdraw from politics," he told reporters at a press conference. "I'm sorry for disappointing many people."
Although he never officially declared he was running, the former UN chief embarked on a series of public appearances and was widely expected to join the ruling Saenuri party of impeached President Park Geun-Hye, or an emerging conservative breakaway for the upcoming presidential elections.
But he struggled to secure party backing in South Korea's highly partisan political system, corruption allegations were made against some of his relatives, and pictures of him trying to put two banknotes into a ticket machine at once made him appear out of touch.
"My pure patriotism and aspirations have fallen victim to slander that was close to personality slaughter," he said Wednesday, before bowing briefly, shuffling his papers and leaving the stage.
Politics in South Korea have been upended by a massive scandal that prompted millions to take to the streets in protest, the impeachment of the country's conservative president, Park Geun-hye, and a power handoff to the prime minister.
A court is now deliberating about whether to accept Park's impeachment or restore her to power. If she is thrown out, presidential elections, originally set for December, would instead be held within two months.
Ban had initially generated sizable interest in his home country after a decade in charge of the United Nations and was widely seen as testing the political waters before announcing his candidacy.
But his approval ratings have been falling in opinion surveys on who should succeed Park. Liberal Moon Jae-in, who lost the 2012 election to Park, is the current front-runner.
A career diplomat, Ban never joined any South Korean political party, although he served as foreign minister under the late liberal president Roh Moo-Hyun from 2004 to 2006.
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