Don’t rush canalOne who is obsessed about success in the past, is likely to fail in the future. The success of the restoration of the Cheonggye Stream in Seoul does not guarantee the success of a cross-Korea canal. But President-elect Lee Myung-bak and his aides seem determined to carry out the project as fast as possible. The presidential transition team has a task force for the cross-Korea canal. Lee Jae-oh, one of the closest aides to Lee, is the adviser to the grand canal task force. Lee Jae-oh said the idea of building a cross-Korea canal is not up for debate. He said the president-elect is determined to carry out the project, and that the vote of the people is a mandate to support his pledge to build the artificial waterway. Therefore, the project should start immediately. He seems to present the project as an irreversible fact, a done deal, and that opposing voices should stop complaining about it.
The cross-Korea canal project was Lee’s key pledge. It is natural that he wants to make it a big success and get it started as soon as possible, so others can’t stop it later. But the canal project is politically sensitive. Environmental organizations and the United New Democratic Party publicly opposed the idea. During the Grand National Party primary, Park Geun-hye, former head of the party, expressed opposition to the project. The project is so vast, expensive and sensitive that if it is pushed too quickly, the people may become sharply divided.
The transition team is pleased about some survey results, even though the number of proponents and opponents are more or less the same. But they must not interpret the survey results the way they want. According to other surveys, up to 80 or 90 percent of respondents say that Lee should revive the economy and create jobs. The argument that people elected Lee because they support the canal project is a leap of logic. President Roh Moo-hyun pushed for the construction of administrative, “innovative” business cities with the same logic, causing real estate prices to surge and his approval ratings to nosedive.
The president-elect promised to revive the economy and unite the people. There must be priorities and an appropriate pace for different pledges. It is regrettable that he starts with a controversial canal issue that will make him lose political momentum. If he wants to make the canal a success, he first must persuade the people and build a consensus. If he approaches the issue carefully, more people may share his idea. Even though the canal project was Lee’s key pledge, the project should not be be carried out hastily.
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