Posted August. 13, 2009 10:17,
Campaigning is underway in Jeju Special Self-governing Province ahead of a public vote Aug. 26 to determine whether Jeju Gov. Kim Tae-hwan should be recalled. The southern tourist islands government does not expect the recall vote to get the required one-third support from eligible voters and the required 50 percent of votes needed for approval. Even if Kim is recalled through the vote, the naval base project on the island will continue. If a governor is dismissed through a public recall due to his support for a national project, no other province will risk pushing a NIMBY project widely rejected by the public. Kims dismissal could lead to a considerable delay of the project, which is scheduled to be launched in December.
The confidence vote over the Jeju governor has revealed the irrationality of the public recall system. Since the law does not define which acts are subject to a recall, all acts conducted by governors or municipal chiefs seem subject to the law. Acts subject to recall will not be limited to abuse of power or inappropriate police decisions, and so even the justified exercise of power can ignite a dispute. The so-called Public Recall Campaign Headquarters claims that Kim ignored the democratic process in pushing for the construction of the base in the village of Gangjeong near Seogwipo.
The Jeju government, however, held public hearings and conducted public opinion polls in accordance with the law, and signed memorandums of understandings with the Defense Ministry and the Land, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry. If 10 percent of Jeju residents can collect voter signatures to stop the project despite that the province followed legal procedures, the future of pursuing national projects could be in doubt. A similar problem surfaced in the 2007 recall vote for Hanam Mayor Kim Hwang-shik, who proposed building a metropolitan cremation site. The recall against him failed because of lack of sufficient votes (31.1 percent). More people are saying the recall vote for the Jeju governor is reason why public debate over a revision to the Public Recall Act is needed.
Kim Tae-hwan said campaigns for and against the recall are turning into a gauge of the local elections next year. President Lee Myung-bak pledged in his 2007 presidential campaign to build a naval base on Jeju Island with the function of a beautiful tourist port. On July 1 this year, he said, I think recalling a governor who is conducting a national project is undesirable. The administration, however, chose to do nothing after the recall vote schedule was announced. It must strictly crack down on illicit campaigning, including advance electioneering for next years local elections or systematic mobilization of residents on Election Day, in the upcoming recall vote for the Jeju governor.
The Jeju naval base is a strategic project for the country and closely linked to national security and sea route development. More than anything, the government must show a strong will to pursue the project without fail.