Former United Nations head, Ban Ki-moon, came in second in an opinion poll on likely candidates who could become the next South Korean president. The poll also showed Ban narrowing the gap on the frontrunner Moon Jae-in.

The Realmeter poll, commissioned by the Maeil Business Newspaper and released on Monday (16 January) was conducted between 9 January and 13 January. It showed ex-liberal opposition party leader Moon leading at 26.1% and the former UN chief coming in second at 22.2%.

Ban has narrowed the gap since last week when he polled 21.5% against Moon's 26.8%. The poll, which took responses from over 2,500 adults, put another Democratic Party candidate Lee Jae-myung — also the mayor of Seongnam — at third place with 11.7% approval, down from 12% a week earlier.

Ban called on scandal-hit President Park on Monday to inform her officially about his return and future plans, a press release from his spokesman said.

"I should have visited you in person. It is unfortunate that the situation is like this. I hope you will manage the situation well," the former South Korean diplomat was cited as saying.

Park is also said to have congratulated Ban on his decade-long career as head of the UN.

South Korea has been embroiled in a political crisis ever since an influence-peddling scandal involving Park made headlines and resulted in her impeachment. The country's constitutional court has up to 180 days to decide either to uphold or overturn the impeachment vote.

Ban Ki-moon
Former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon burns incense during his visits to the national cemetery in Seoul, South Korea REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

If the impeachment is upheld, a new election has to be held in 60 days to pick a new president. The election to a single five-year term is currently scheduled to take place on 20 December this year.

Ban, who has made several campaign-style appearances since returning to South Korea, is scheduled to visit the southern part of the country later on Monday. His representatives have said he plans to have as much contact with locals as possible as he gears up to make a decision on his future.

The 72-year-old diplomat is also expected to visit the grave of former president Roh Moo-hyun in Bongha village on Tuesday before moving to Pangmok Port, near the site where a ferry sank in 2014, killing over 300 people.