[EDITORIALS]Respect please, Mr. Mayor

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[EDITORIALS]Respect please, Mr. Mayor

Lee Myung-bak, Seoul's mayor, is stirring up controversy. Critics attack as high-handed his ambitious project to develop Gangbuk, north of the Han River. There are concerns that the project might turn into a massive, disorganized development. Mr. Lee refused to respond to a summons from the prosecutors office to answer allegations of illegal campaigning during the June 13 local elections. Critics say that this shows disregard of the law. Now the National Election Commission has issued a strict warning to Mr. Lee regarding the presidential election campaign. Preventing municipal leaders from assisting presidential candidates is a prerequisite for a clean election.

Heads of local governments are obligated to remain neutral, but most of them (88 percent) are affiliated with political parties. They keep in touch with residents in their jurisdictions and have a wide scope for action. They might be tempted to use their influence to support their party's presidential candidate, and they are apt to compete with each other in showing their loyalty to the candidate. That is why the election watchdog outlined measures to control the words and behavior of local government heads. Local officials should refrain from joining campaign-related events, and should watch their language. In a recent meeting headed by Prime Minister Kim Suk-soo, the central government decided to deal harshly with irregularities committed by local government officials.

But it is doubtful that local officials will abide by the rules. They are likely to try to influence the election by taking advantage of legal loopholes. A recent statement by Mr. Lee, a member of the Grand National Party, at an event sponsored by the party's Seoul chapter, is a good example. "It would be a violation of the election law, if I say that Lee Hoi-chang is the only candidate who can make this country worth living in," Mr. Lee said. "We should sweep the presidential election by a greater margin [than the local elections]."

He ridiculed the neutrality of civil servants. That is why Mr. Lee's pledges to develop Seoul are being criticized as an "abuse of government authority." All municipal heads must respect the election commission. It is the starting point of a fair election.
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