By Kim Hyo-jin

The chances of Chungcheong Province producing a future presidential candidate were dashed when Prime Minister Lee Wan-koo tendered his resignation over his alleged involvement in a bribery scandal.

Lee Wan-koo was regarded as one of two possible candidates from the Chungcheong region to stand in the 2017 presidential election along with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who also hails from the province.

Lee, a third-term lawmaker and former governor of South Chungcheong Province, became prime minister in February, raising expectations that he would enter a future presidential race.

Ban Ki-moon has been ranked as the most preferred presidential candidate in various polls for the last few months.

However, the UN chief has also been dragged into the maelstrom of the bribery scandal, apparently losing ground with the public.

Deceased business tycoon Sung Woan-jong, the head of Keangnam Enterprises, argued that he became a target of a prosecution investigation because he had been supportive of the UN chief.

Facing questions over his relationship with the late businessman, Ban said, “I know Sung, but I have no special connection with him”

But critics say that Ban has yet to clear suspicions because he is still a founding member of the controversial Chungcheong Forum, founded by Sung.

Sung used it as a network for politicians, public officials and journalists who hail from the region, and to cultivate ties with them

Ban also denied speculation about his possible intention to join domestic politics. “After I quit the job, I’d like to spend more time with my grandchildren,” he said during a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Thursday.

As two potential presidential hopefuls tumble in the wake of the controversial scandal, some political watchers say that South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung may emerge as a heavyweight in the next presidential election.

In the meantime, Rep. Kang Chang-hee of the ruling Saenuri Party, a key politician from Chungcheong region, declared he would not run in the 2016 general election.

SOURCE: The Korea Times