Shaky alliance for Sejong

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Shaky alliance for Sejong

It is unfortunate to see the opposition Democratic and Liberty Forward Parties forge a united front to oppose the confirmation vote on Prime Minister-nominee Chung Un-chan because of his skepticism about a controversial plan to move the government to Sejong City, South Chungcheong. Leaders of the two opposition parties met over the weekend to veto Chung’s nomination and reaffirmed their plans to push the Sejong City project forward.

It is natural for opposition party representatives to meet regularly, exchange opinions, and cooperate with one another. If the former Seoul National University president had ethical shortcomings that make him unqualified to be prime minister, their opposition would be warranted. But their forming an alliance in order to influence a state project for their own self-interest is a sign of a re-emergent regionalism. A prime example of the changing landscape of regional alliances can be found in the coalition between dissident Kim Dae-jung and conservative Kim Jong-pil during the so-called three Kims era.

Chung’s skepticism about the Sejong project - on the feasibility of having two administrative capitals - are widely shared by others in the political arena. Yet none have been brave enough to speak up about the issue, fearing a political backlash from Chungcheong voters.

The administrative capital relocation project grew out of the marriage of regional and political interests. Former President Roh Moo-hyun later confessed that his campaign promise of moving the administrative capital to Chungcheong had contributed a great deal to bringing him the presidency. At its core, the plan was part of a campaign strategy to garner votes.

When political gains outweigh the interests of the state, it is extremely inefficient. Politicians must remember they will be held accountable if the Sejong City project ends as a fiasco, burdening generations to come.

It is easy to see the motives behind the alliance of the two parties. The move allows the Democratic Party to deliver a blow to the Lee Myung-bak administration and weaken Chung, who is widely seen as a potential candidate for the next presidential election. The Liberty Forward Party, which relies solely on its Chung-cheong constituency, can consolidate its voter base from which it can later launch attacks on formidable ruling party candidates.

But an issue that is as critical as moving the administrative capital should not be used as a means to secure political leverage. If the two parties are really serious about what’s good for the country, they should use the momentum of Chung’s confirmation to spark a national debate and gather the wisdom to find a better alternative to Sejong City.
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