Former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon swiftly moved out of his official residence in New York on Tuesday and shipped his belongings to Seoul.
Ban, whose presidential ambitions have been a badly kept secret for many months, is poised to return to Korea after a quick visit to northern New York State and has canceled a speech he was to deliver at Harvard University on Jan. 12.
Ban has been spurred by opinion polls that show him lagging behind former Minjoo Party leader Moon Jae-in. "We're just getting started," sources quoted him as saying.
Ban ranked first among presidential contenders amid reports that he was to run on a conservative ticket until the scandal surrounding President Park Geun-hye erupted. But the latest opinion polls show him lagging behind Moon even in his home province of Chungcheong.
Aides downplayed the significance of the polls. "The results came out even before he has even publicly announced his presidential bid and will have no influence on his decision to run for office," one said. Aides in Korea apparently advised him to be quick about announcing his bid if he is to turn the tide.
Ban seems to be abandoning the sinking conservative ship altogether. He does not plan to visit embattled President Park Geun-hye after returning to Seoul and did not call her to exchange New Year's greetings this year. Instead he called the widows of former progressive presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
An aide said, "It's difficult for a former UN chief to express his sentiments for the president when her powers have been suspended due to the impeachment bill."