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Lee hopes to ride a waterway to the presidency

Aug 27,2006
[Fifth in a series] Former Seoul mayor Lee Myung-bak’s claim to fame will always be the restoration of Cheonggye stream, which has received accolades as a successful and productive transformation of a shabby part of Seoul.
Mr. Lee, who is a candidate for the next president, has his eyes and hopes on yet another ambitious project ― a large-scale waterway.
Linking a canal from the Han River to the Nakdong River, including one in the Jeolla region, Mr. Lee’s long term goal is to eventually create a waterway from Busan to Pyongyang.
According to Mr. Lee, a project of this scale will allow the logistics of transporting goods to be reduced greatly, while stimulating the economy.
“3.8 million people per year will receive jobs and inland districts will be more developed. Just imagine ― the whole country will be alive and kicking,” said Mr. Lee.
The former president of Hyundai Construction Company from 1977 until 1988, Mr. Lee is confident that his knowledge and expertise in the economy make him the best-suited person to lead the country.
The conception of this new canal project first came about 10 years ago, when during a National Assembly session, Mr. Lee inquired about the feasibility of such a project.
In line with the idea of the canal, Mr. Lee along with six of his aides took a four-day trip, which ended on Aug. 20, to the potential waterway regions, commencing in Busan then moving northward toward Seoul and Gyeonggi province.
With the starting point of the canal situated at Eulsuk Island, Busan ― Lee continued his itinerary through to Milyang and Changnyeong in South Gyeongsang province; Goryeong, Daegu, Gumi, Sangju and Mungyeong of North Gyeongsang province; Goesan and Chungju of North Chungcheong province; Yeoju, Namyangju and Paldang in Gyeonggi province; Seoul and then Paju in northern Gyeonggi province.
While on the Nakdong River in Sangju and Daegu, Lee surveyed the depth and speed of the water himself on a rubber boat.
Lee was also vocal in conveying to communities that he has “learned about the object economy all of my life. I can turn dreams into realities.”
Mr. Lee remains one of the leading candidates for the presidency. However, he has one particular area of concern with regard to his popularity. His support among the urban population and educated is high, but his support in rural areas and among older citizens is much lower.
On a recent trip to Gangwon province, an area which was hit hard by the summer floods, Mr. Lee came across a restaurant owner who had no idea who the former Seoul mayor was. Now coined as the “humiliation of Pyeongchang” by Mr. Lee’s aides, this incident still remains ingrained in their minds.
However, Mr. Lee’s aides believe the canal project can offset the low popularity ratings in economically underdeveloped regions, as the canal will pass through those areas.
Another factor that weighs heavily on Mr. Lee’s mind are rumors, that his supporters believe are an attempt to put a dent in his reputation.
One rumor that is still circulating claims that his son is a draft dodger despite the fact that he has finished his mandatory military service. For this reason, Mr. Lee’s only son has tried to avoid his father in public, so as not to taint his standings in the running for the presidency, said Mr. Lee’s wife, Kim Yun-ok.
In an effort to capture additional support from the outlying rural areas, Mr. Lee’s schedule for the upcoming months is going to be a laborious one. His plans include a visit to the Jeolla region in early September followed by several trips overseas.


by Seo Seung-wook


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