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[Editorial] Gov. Recall Vote on Jeju Island

Posted August. 27, 2009 08:30,   


A public recall vote for Jeju Island Governor Kim Tae-hwan was held yesterday. He retained his post, however, as the recall vote failed to get the required one-third support from eligible voters. Though it is lamentable that the head of the country’s first self-governing province had to undergo a recall vote due to dispute over the construction of a naval base on the tourist island, this unfortunate event will hopefully turn into a blessing as Jeju citizens wisely chose to retain him.

Thirty-five civic groups in the province demanded a recall vote for Kim, saying he failed to collect the opinions of residents and resolve conflicts on the base’s construction in the village of Gangjeong, which is near the island’s capital of Seogwipo. The base, however, is critical for strengthening naval capabilities and securing sea transport routes. Kim approved the project after thoroughly listening to Jeju residents through public hearings and surveys. In this regard, the recall vote was a farfetched idea in the first place.

The public recall system took effect in May 2007 as a means to help grassroots democracy grow in the country by enhancing the power of provincial governments and encourage their democratic handling of public affairs. The system has its weaknesses, however, because it does not clarify reasons for a recall vote, paving the way for citizens to dismiss provincial chiefs for their legitimate exercise of their authority. The mayor of Hanam, Gyeonggi Province, Kim Hwang-sik, also faced dismissal by a recall vote in 2007 when his city agreed to build a crematorium. A revision to the system is needed to prevent provincial heads from falling victim to regional selfishness and political disputes.

A certain portion of Jeju residents still oppose the construction of the naval base, warning that it will undermine the province’s reputation as a “peaceful island.” To maintain peace in both national and Jeju waters, however, the base is necessary. Given that Hawaii remains one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations despite housing a U.S. naval base, Jeju’s tourism industry will likely benefit from the base. Preferably, the base can double as a port for cruise ships under an agreement with the central government reached in April. Slated for completion in December, the base will not only enhance national security but also significantly contribute to invigorating Jeju’s economy.

Hopefully, the result of Jeju’s recall vote will end unnecessary conflict and confrontation over the construction of the naval base.