[Viewpoint] Lee Hoi-chang’s choice

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[Viewpoint] Lee Hoi-chang’s choice

Lee Hoi-chang, chairman of the Liberty Forward Party, has run for president three times. Each time, he has run not as someone representing the Chungcheong region, but as a potential national leader. The voters who supported him did so not because of regional ties, but because they believed in his vision for the country’s future. If he had run only for the people of Chungcheong, he would never have been chosen as a candidate for president.

When Lee became the head of the Chungcheong-based party after last year’s legislative election, he became the region’s de facto leader. Many people criticized his regressive political actions, but he had little reason for concern. He had come close to presidential victory twice and had not lost his qualities as a national leader, even if his party would never move beyond its provincial borders.

Lee has always been able to reach outside the bounds of his party. Whenever sensitive political issues arise or when the ruling and opposition parties lock horns, Lee is able to present a clear and balanced view of the situation. His political position and the weight of his words have always been far more powerful than the Liberty Forward Party’s position inside the National Assembly.

Lately, however, Lee has changed. Where the Sejong City project is concerned, Lee’s characteristics as a national political leader have suddenly disappeared and he has returned to the regionalism of his party.

Lee’s narrow-minded view of the project is surprising. After 1,100 conservative elder statesmen and intellectuals demanded that the Sejong City plan be revised, Lee said, “I am extremely ashamed that they are elder statesmen.”

After Chung Un-chan, the new prime minister-designate, hinted at the possibility the plan would be modified, Lee said, “Chung has enraged and thwarted the people of Chungcheong.”

If Lee persistently pushes forward with the Sejong City project as planned, it may very well proceed as he wishes because Korean politics seems to have fallen under the spell of the Chungcheong voters. The Liberty Forward Party that supports it, the Democrats who have already seen gains in promising to carry it through and the Grand Nationals who have experienced difficulties by having opposed it - all of these groups will have no choice but to follow the initial plan.

It will be extremely unfortunate if Lee, a national political leader, fails to overcome regional boundaries over the critical issue of dividing the Korean capital into two. The project could also become the source of another national misfortune in and of itself.

The Sejong issue has become untouchable in political circles because of its link to the voters of Chung-cheong. When anyone from outside the region mentions it, tempers are likely to flare. Although Lee’s obsession with the Sejong project is rooted in his ties to the Chungcheong region, his connection to the area could also be what allows him to become the one who turns it around.

At this point, Lee must pay attention to two issues. First, the plan to build Sejong City was a product of political strategy aimed at winning votes in Chungcheong and it had nothing to do with government efficiency or the balanced development of the nation.

During the 2002 presidential election, Roh Moo-hyun, then a presidential candidate, made a promise to relocate the country’s capital to Chungcheong. Since then, the ruling and opposition parties have agreed to build an administrative hub in that region. And yet, Lee, when he was a presidential candidate, was fiercely opposed to the relocation of the capital.

It is absurd for Lee to oppose modifications to the Sejong City project by claiming that “any changes will violate the promise made to the people.”

This was not a promise made to the nation. It was nothing more than a political compromise.

Second, splitting the administration and moving certain offices to Chungcheong will create enormous inefficiency and waste within the government - no matter how hard Lee insists. It is a fact that cannot be ignored.

Modification of the Sejong City plan, however, could bring a broader spectrum of opportunities to Lee and the residents of Chungcheong. The province could win profitable development contracts and national support. If a plan like that is more beneficial to the people of Chungcheong, shouldn’t that be the path Lee chooses to fight for?

The aim of any Sejong project must be to create a self-sufficient metropolis capable of supporting a population of 500,000, whether it is a city of science, industry or something else.

If Lee could persuade voters in Chungcheong to agree to a plan like that, one that is more attractive than construction of an administrative hub, he would ensure his legacy as a great national leader in Korean history.

After all, who doesn’t want to be remembered as a great politician who averted financial loss and revived a local economy?

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Jong-soo
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