Tomorrow launches the eighth local governments elected by popular vote. The representatives of 17 cities and provinces as well as 226 municipalities, along with local assembly members will be in charge of grassroot administrations and their organization moving forward. While the local governments of Korea have been losing their independence from the central government, we hope the new representatives would revive their original mandates and put their best efforts to improve the status of municipal government.
Unfortunately, ‘locality’ was not visible during the previous local election on last June 1. It simply followed the dynamics from the presidential election, pushing aside important agenda such as how to extend the root of municipalities. The voter’s decision brought significant changes in the existing landscape to the power dynamics of their regional administrations, but the changes should not be just about position exchange between the ‘ruling’ and the ‘opposition’ parties. What would be the worth of the changed dynamics if they, whoever won the election, fail to find measures to save the non-capital region from collapsing?
Disproportional development issues have started long time ago, and capital-centered polarization is intensifying even in this small land of the nation. Some call it such polarization a sign that the country is on the way to national ruins. Local economies have long lost their energy and colleges and universities in the areas are shutting their doors as youths are increasingly heading to capital areas. The previous efforts to relocate some government offices, and to build so called ‘innovation cities’ scattered across the country remain as stopgap measures.
Ultimately, the issues come down to creating as many as decent jobs in a sustained way. In order to activate local economies in line with the trend of fourth industrial revolution underway, the solutions to the problems will require more advanced approaches than simply appealing to get more government budgets. Efforts should be put in place to explore assorted actions that fit to individual area’s status, which may include attracting high-tech industries - IT and Bio businesses - , promoting collaborations between businesses and academia, facilitating incubation and growth of start-ups. It is worthwhile to review the establishment of ‘special district for new opportunity and development’ or ‘special district for advancement of fourth industrial revolution’ where much-generous tax benefits and eased regulations are applied to. Also, building “Bu-Ul-Gyeong Megacity’ where the economies of Busan, Ulsan and South Gyeongsang are operated in combination can be a meaningful effort if it is run on with well-thought strategies.
Most of all, the responsibilities of the representatives from all the cities, provinces and districts are at the center of every effort. Those leaders must put greater efforts to build their municipality’s competitiveness by conjuring up creative and innovative ideas leveraging collaborations and competitions between each other. The leadership position in municipal government should not be exploited as a way to build a stepping stone for their next move toward central politics, such as the next presidential campaign. Recently, President Yoon Suk-yeol of the Republic of Korea put forward making ‘an era of locality, to build good places to live across every part of Korea’ as one of the new regime’s targets. The ruling and opposition parties should exert all possible support to revitalize the nation’s local areas. One might hope building a ‘Second Cabinet Meeting’ can be an option to consider as part of that effort. We need to remember, ‘when the municipals go down, there is no foundation for the centers to stand on’.