[Viewpoint] Politics and Sejong City’s future

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[Viewpoint] Politics and Sejong City’s future

A not-yet-existent city has kicked up a dust devil that is widening social fissures. The rationales behind the two polar ends of opinion over Sejong City are both comprehensible. One side argues that a country’s leader cannot pursue a path that obviously leads to a bad end. The other maintains that one cannot break a promise made to the people. Both have a point, creating a confused public.

Hadn’t President Lee Myung-bak known the downside of the plan while he was campaigning for the presidency? Probably. Yet he kept silent because he couldn’t risk losing votes from Chungcheong. If he believed the plan was wrong, he should have said so and objected to it up front, as Representative Park Geun-hye says. That’s why her argument is tenable. Her steadfast and consistent rule - that a promise with the people is sacred and irrevocable - comes across as rare and refreshing in our political world. That’s why her adherence to principles strikes a chord with many. The president clearly should explain himself and apologize.

But who is actually right? That depends on the person making the argument. Words like “principle” and “trust” are too abstract. As a candidate, President Lee agreed to the idea of sharing government power and its capital with a new city in South Chungcheong for obvious reasons. He needed votes. The same may be true of Rep. Park, who is a potential candidate for the next presidency.

Her current state of mind would be no different from Lee’s when he was running for president. When Park, as head of the Grand National Party, consented in 2005 to the government’s proposal to build a new administrative city, she had the upcoming presidential campaign in mind. Then, as now, she stood as a candidate with presumed presidential ambitions. And then, as now, she needed votes.

My logic is simple.

Who should we trust more, the incumbent president or a presidential-wannabe? Should we follow someone who is likely to run in the next election over someone tasked with the heavy responsibility of governing?

There is one more thing: We must consider who gains what from this controversy. President Lee admits that his life would be a lot easier if he simply stood by the original plan.

He could have kept his promise and retained his popularity instead of provoking the current uproar. Yet he is willing to stake his credibility on modifying the plan.

On the other hand, Park can lose big if she backtracks from the original outline. She must adhere to the initial plan. When a problem concerning public interest is at stake, I would bet on the person who is willing to make sacrifices.

A city is a product of necessity, not planning. It takes shape if people come together because of need. Their interaction boosts efficacy and productivity. Cities like New York, London and Shanghai are brimming with life because of their natural births. A planned city is more like a socialist economy whereas a natural-born city stems from a market economy. Sejong City is not only planned, but is also a political child. It serves only to win votes. Former President Roh Moo-hyun admitted that his campaign made substantial gains due to his position to move the capital to Chung-cheong.

The biggest fault lies with the GNP, who played along with the former administration and ruling party, for fear of losing votes. At the time, few people really believed a real city could be built just by moving a few government offices out of Seoul.

A president and a potential presidential candidate have different objectives. A president has the responsibilities required of a chief executive. How one takes up the presidential role determines what kind of the leader he or she becomes. We must let the president, whom we have chosen, be the leader he wants to be. What kind of president would he be if he is swayed by a potential candidate for the next presidency?

It all comes down to the self-interest of a political party or individual politician. But we must remember that Sejong City is not an issue between the president and Rep. Park or between political parties. It is a matter concerning the country’s future. It is a matter determining whether we backtrack to obsolete regionalism or move forward in view of a larger and unified nation. The national interest should supersede regional interest.

President Lee had been in Rep. Park’s position and therefore should understand her point. He must come up with an alternative plan to appease the Chungcheong people as they, too, have been victimized by the political game. Rep. Park made her voice heard clearly. She has fulfilled her role. But the noise must stop. Enough is enough.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Moon Chang-geuk
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