Campaign promises backfire

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Campaign promises backfire

After the government decided to cancel a plan to build a new international airport in the southeastern region, confusion and political conflict are building. Ruling Grand National Party lawmakers from Busan even plan to propose a bill that would force the airport to be built on Gadeok Island, off the coast of the city.

Meanwhile, lawmakers from Daegu, Busan’s rival for the airport project, went so far as to demand President Lee Myung-bak leave the ruling party. Former GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye, also from Daegu, insisted that the project continue, criticizing Lee for reneging on his campaign pledge to build the airport. The opposition parties have also blasted Lee for breaking his promise.

Following such controversial projects as the construction of a Grand Canal, Sejong City and the Science and Business Belt, the airport was a typical example of a massive and irresponsible commitment by presidential candidates during the campaign. That process often takes four steps. First, a presidential hopeful makes an overly extravagant pledge to voters. After a while, the pledge turns out to be riddled with flaws. The president annuls or amends his promise. Then his rivals pressure the president to make a recommitment to his pledge by excoriating him for breaking it.

Irresponsible presidential election promises cause a huge burden on society. The controversial Saemangeum Seawall project pledged by then-presidential candidate Roh Tae-woo is finally back on track after decades of to and fro, including lawsuits. The economic future of the project, however, is still fuzzy. The Sejong City project, aimed at constructing an administrative capital in the Chungcheong region, is being pursued according to the original plan after much meandering. But with the possibility of the North Korea situation taking a sudden and unexpected lurch in an unforeseen direction, we still worry about splitting the capital into two.

Our society should find its way out of such irresponsible commitments by presidential candidates. Although Lee deserves criticism for breaking his promise, it should not inevitably lead to making another one. Park should think hard before coming to her conclusions. Does she have the wisdom to dispute a committee’s conclusion that the airport does not make economic sense? How much economic and scientific knowledge did she base her 2007 airport campaign pledge on? She must answer those questions before demanding Lee resume the construction of the airport.
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