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End Sejong City Dispute

Posted June. 15, 2010 13:47,   


President Lee Myung-bak in a speech to the nation Monday asked the National Assembly to decide on the revised Sejong City project, saying, “I can no longer afford to see the nation divided over the matter with regional and political conflict intensifying.” He added, “If the National Assembly votes on the revision in the ongoing session, the government will respect the outcome.”

Many still warn that the original blueprint for Sejong City stems from political populism that will undermine national competitiveness and administrative efficiency. In his 2002 presidential campaign, candidate Roh Moo-hyun hurriedly pledged to move the administrative capital to win votes in the Chungcheong provinces. After winning the election, he admitted that the pledge greatly helped him win support in the region. When the Constitutional Court ruled the transfer of administrative capital unconstitutional, the Roh administration quickly came up with measures to divide the central government. The ruling Grand National Party’s leadership agreed to the plan despite intense internal conflict back then. That is how the original blueprint came into being. In contrast, China and Japan, both of which have larger territory and populations, have central ministries in their respective capitals of Beijing and Tokyo. Both countries are free from any attempts to divide up their administrative capitals, and this has many implications for Korea.

With the ruling party’s devastating defeat in the June 2 local elections, the Lee Myung-bak administration has de facto lost momentum for the revised plan, which in this newspaper’s view is a rational alternative to pursue regional development and promote the nation’s future. Nevertheless, the government ran into a brick wall of political opposition due to lack of strategy and communication skills. Since it can prove that its administrative policies are viable only through their success, it needs heavy soul searching over its unprepared and complacent approach to the revision from A-Z.

The National Assembly should finally end the dispute and stop wasting national resources over the revision submitted by the government in March by voting on five relevant bills in the latest session. Given the political dynamics within both the ruling and opposition parties over the matter, the main opposition party has no reason to say no if ruling party members vote free of the party’s policy.

Former Grand National Party Chairwoman Park Geun-hye reacted positively to putting the bills to parliamentary vote, while the opposition demanded that the government withdraw the revision altogether. Given that the opposition could push ahead with the original plan in the National Assembly vote, such a move is highly likely to face criticism as a politically motivated attempt to instigate confusion and gain benefits. A responsible party should make its vote fair and square in the National Assembly and help end the dispute over the issue. Dividing up the administrative capital might bring devastating consequences, so identifying who voted for and against the revision is needed for the record.