South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited Busan on Thursday for a briefing on megacity construction in the southeastern region. He also attended a presentation about a new airport on Gadeok Island, which is the key to the plan, by visiting a candidate site.
"A new airport on Gadeok Island will enable this region to be connected by the air around the clock, and jump to become a global logistics hub, together with the routes by sea and on land," Moon said. He was accompanied by key figures of the ruling party and the government, including Democratic Party leader Lee Nak-yon, Minister of the Interior and Safety Jeon Hae-cheol, Governor of South Gyeongsang Province Kim Kyung-soo, and Minister of Economy and Finance Hong Nam-ki. The People Power Party criticized the president for an “outright interference in the by-election for the mayor of Busan on April 7 to help the ruling party.”
In fact, President Moon’s visit to Gadeok Island at the moment seems inappropriate. The ruling party announced five major pledges for Busan the day before his visit to the island, which includes a plan for early construction of a new airport on Gadeok Island. In addition, the party said it will forcefully pass a special law on the new Gadeok Island airport, which includes an exceptional clause to exempt the airport from a preliminary feasibility study. The president’s visit to the island was a display to guarantee the government’s full support for the plan, which is why it has brought an argument for his interference in the upcoming by-election for Busan’s mayor 40 days from now.
According to the Public Official Election Act, actions that may affect the imminent elections of public officials are strictly prohibited. The president is the head of the administration who needs to observe the duty to maintain political neutrality before a member of the democratic party. The Constitutional Court also puts a heavier emphasis on president’s duty for neutrality regarding election activities when president’s freedom for political activities and the duty to remain neutral in conflict with each other. This is why President Moon Jae-in needs to pay especially close attention to every move he makes during a sensitive time when the ruling and opposition parties are in fierce competition.
With regards to the upcoming passage of the special law on Gadeok Island, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport estimated the construction cost of the new airport at 28.6 trillion won, which is far higher than the Busan city government’s estimate of seven trillion won. Such a discrepancy raises controversy about a potential downsizing of the project due to high costs. Both the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the Ministry of Justice raised the issues of illegality and fairness of the project, which are the results of different ministries’ careful analysis of the large-scale national project’s economic feasibility, environmental impact, and developmental prospect. It would be only appropriate to thoroughly examine the appropriateness of the project and come up with alternatives as government ministries raised such issues. Given the circumstances, the government and the ruling party’s signals to disregard the issues and push forward with the plan would be hard to avoid criticism that they are turning away from the reasonable administration of state affairs to win the by-election