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[Editorial] Administrative Capital Relocation: Time to End the Drain on the Country’s Resources

[Editorial] Administrative Capital Relocation: Time to End the Drain on the Country’s Resources

Posted October. 21, 2004 23:29,   


The Constitutional Court’s lengthy written decision can be summed up in one sentence: “Seoul is Korea’s capital as recognized by the Constitution.” The decision makes it clear that Seoul, although not designated explicitly as such in the regular Constitution, is the nation’s capital according to the common Constitution, predicated on self-evident and universal principles developed through the Joseon Dynasty and the Japanese colonial era, and established since the foundation of the Republic of Korea.

If the government party is to continue pursuing the relocation of the capital, they must go through the process of amending the Constitution and submit the bill to a plebiscite after securing the consent of two-thirds or more of all national assemblymen. Considering the distribution of seats in the National Assembly, not to mention the prevailing public opinion, it would be accurate to say that the relocation of the administrative capital has now become impossible. It is time to submit to the Constitutional Court’s decision, and take swift and lawful follow-up measures to the invalidation of the Special Law on Administrative Capital Relocation.

From the first, the administrative capital relocation plan was an unreasonable move based solely on political interests. The current decision proves that the five-year administration has thought too lightly of the great work of relocating a 600-year-old capital. Can it be denied that the relocation project was merely a strategic pledge in the general election aimed at procuring votes from the Chungcheong region, and a “political card” meant to be taken advantage of during the subsequent presidential election—a scheme committed to with little or no account of its lack of efficiency and economic viability? Although the excessive expansion of the capital is a problem, this type of relocation can only lead to even bigger problems. The majority of Koreans’ opposition to the relocation plan is simply a natural reaction to such a strained political move.

Nevertheless, President Roh expounded that he feels the general opposition to relocation to be “a movement to discredit or remove the president himself.” Although his characterization of the move as “a change in leadership achieved by leaving behind the roots of the old powers and establishing the ground for the new” ostensibly denotes the abandonment of the old monarchical capital, it ironically underscores the political nature of the relocation plan. The Cheong Wa Dae public relations officer reinforced this idea by crudely stating, “Away with these curse-mongering shamanic rites!” in reference to the opposition.

However, this is no longer the time to harp on past mistakes. Far more urgent is the question of what must be done from this point forward. The inhabitants of the Chungcheong region have been sorely disappointed. Those who swarmed to the area following the announcement of the relocation plan and bought real estate there will sustain significant financial damage. This is the unfortunate result of political maneuvering, and of a government policy made without seeing far or thinking deep. Cheong Wa Dae must come up with a way of alleviating the distress of Chungcheong residents, whose expectations have been greatly inflated and then suddenly let down. The Grand National Party should also feel a sense of joint responsibility in this matter.

The government should take the opportunity offered by the Constitutional Court’s decision to reexamine the four bills currently at issue from square one and scrutinize them for violations of the Constitution. If their contents infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of speech, corporate activities, and private property, or go against the president’s duty to preserve the nation’s independence and territorial rights, they cannot escape being ruled as “unconstitutional.” The decision of the Constitutional Court must be taken as a severe warning against creating laws that defy the Constitution’s spirit or purpose on the strength of a majority in the National Assembly.

The reason why the Constitutional Court did not take the full term of six months to deliberate the issue and instead pronounced their decision in just three months is likely based on the faithful consideration that the consumptive political dispute and division of national opinion must be curtailed as soon as possible. It was an overwhelming decision, backed by eight of the nine constitutional court judges. The government must apologize to the people for fostering conflict and discord by trying to push through the capital relocation scheme under the pretext of pursuing “reform,” at the expense of due constitutional process and public consent. The controversy must be concluded cleanly and quickly. It’s important to know how to accept defeat gracefully.