Blue House denies Sejong referendum

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Blue House denies Sejong referendum

The Blue House yesterday denied speculation that the Lee Myung-bak administration is considering holding a national referendum on whether to rewrite the development plan for Sejong City.

“At this point, we are not considering the possibility of holding a referendum,” Lee Dong-kwan, senior presidential secretary for public affairs, said yesterday morning. Speculation about a national referendum was fueled after Lee, the aide, said Sunday that the president will make a “bold decision” about the Sejong City issue when the time is right.

When he made the comment, the senior aide spoke to journalists on the condition of anonymity.

“What I said on Sunday was to express my frustration about the political muddle,” Lee said. “What I meant was that it is necessary to conclude this matter expeditiously.”

The senior presidential secretary said he was asking the senior Grand National lawmakers to have a productive discussion to resolve the issue.

“I was never referring to a national referendum,” he said, adding, “I had no intention to pressure politicians.”

Seeking the National Assembly’s approval is the key step left for the Lee Myung-bak administration to change the Sejong City development plan. The initial blueprint, adopted during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, requires government offices to relocate to Sejong City in South Chungcheong. Saying the original plan would be inefficient, the Lee administration proposed a new plan to develop a science, education and business hub instead.

The Grand Nationals, who occupy the majority inside the legislature, are split between pro-Lee and pro-Park Geun-hye factions. While pro-Lee lawmakers support the change, Park loyalists insist on the initial plan. Throughout last week, the party held marathon discussions to decide its official position on the matter, but reached no conclusion. Senior GNP lawmakers will continue their talks this month.

The senior secretary blamed media for interpreting his earlier remarks incorrectly, saying that “the real issue here is that the situation is so dire that I have to talk about the president’s bold decision.”

Following speculation that the Blue House was preparing for a national referendum, opposition parties as well as pro-Park lawmakers inside the GNP fiercely criticized the administration for considering bypassing the National Assembly.

Despite the Blue House’s attempt to silence the speculation about a national referendum, the idea has continued to spread.

The Munhwa Ilbo, an evening newspaper, reported yesterday afternoon that President Lee has decided to call for a referendum before the June 2 local elections if the Grand Nationals fail to reach a consensus on their official position by the end of this month.

The newspaper reported that the plan was decided during the second week of February when Prime Minister Chung Un-chan met with the president for a routine briefing.

Park Sun-kyoo, Blue House spokesman, denied the report. Park said there was no briefing with the prime minister in the second week of last month.

“There were two briefings on Feb. 2 and 23,” Park said. “I checked the transcripts of both meetings, and a national referendum was never mentioned.”

Park said someone leaked such a detail with malicious intent, adding that “holding a national referendum is a grave matter that we cannot talk about casually. Media speculation continues, but the ball is in the GNP’s court.”


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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