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Is the Opposition Party Split Over the 4-river Project?

Posted November. 23, 2009 09:11,   


The main opposition Democratic Party could be seeing an internal squabble over the government project to restore four of the country’s major rivers.

The project, a source of heated political controversy, began yesterday with groundbreaking ceremonies at the Yeongsan and Geum rivers. The government plans to add momentum to the project beginning with these events.

The Democratic Party expressed heightened opposition to the project with phrases such as “canal paranoia.” Yet Gwangju Mayor Park Gwang-tae and South Jeolla Province Gov. Park Joon-young, both of whom are party members, went out of their way to show support for the restoration of the Yeongsan River, showing a possible division within the party over the matter.

President Lee Myung-bak attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the Yeongsan River in Gwangju yesterday. He said, “The four-river restoration project is not a matter of choice, but a matter of course. The nation needs it right now. This future initiative is for the greater good of the people and should not be swayed by politics.”

“The nation cannot afford to abandon Korean rivers, a blessing from Mother Nature, as they are. The project will provide growth momentum to help Korea make another leap forward.”

He also said, “The Yeongsan River project is the most urgent, and is where we can see substantial results. With the project, we can fulfill not only the long-cherished desire of the province but also my dream to save the Yeongsan River first among the four. The river will receive the largest funding per unit area of land and be restored in an eco-friendly way.”

Aware of Democratic Party lawmakers who boycotted the ceremony in protest of the project, President Lee said at the end of his congratulatory speech, “It is unfortunate and regrettable that some are physically absent from this event today, but I believe they are with us in spirit nonetheless.”

Mayor Park and Gov. Park showed clear support for the Yeongsan River’s restoration by attending the ceremony. Mayor Park said, “Together with the citizens of the city and the province, we will dedicate our body and soul to the project to transform the region into a golden belt for logistics and tourism where nature, history and culture come alive.”

“The historic restoration of the Yeongsan River will provide a strong platform for green growth and regional development.”

Gov. Park also wished for the success of the project in his congratulatory remarks.

In contrast, Democratic Party lawmakers Kim Jin-pyo and Kim Seong-sun held a self-imposed news conference titled “Declaration of Despair, Death of Four Rivers.”They blasted the project as a “budgetary black hole.”

“The Lee Myung-bak government is burning a candle at both ends by pushing for a project costing 30 trillion won (26 billion U.S. dollars) with little job creation effect and destructive consequences for the environment,” they said in a statement.

The main opposition party has its own problems, however. When Gov. Park ran for his post in 2004, he pledged to restore the watercourse on the Yeongsan River. The following year, he met Mayor Park and both agreed to clean the river.

Within the Democratic Party, representatives elected in South Jeolla Province have frequently expressed support for the restoration of the Yeongsan River.

One of them was Rep. Choi In-ki, who accompanied the president on his on-site visit of the river early this year. Choi said the river should recover its depth and functions as a river to restore the watercourse.

On President Lee’s visit to the Yeongsan River, party spokesman Woo Sang-ho called it “a childish act of coming between the Democratic Party, opposition parties, and citizens of the region who oppose the project.”

“The Democratic Party also expresses regret over the heads of provincial and municipal governments in South Jeolla Province for focusing too much on highlighting the project’s positive sides,” Woo said.

yongari@donga.co jin0619@donga.com