[Viewpoint] Busan needs a long-term vision

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[Viewpoint] Busan needs a long-term vision

The Busan people have been faithful to the conservative party for the last two decades, but the love affair may soon come to an end. We cannot know the scale and depth of the ill feelings that the country’s second-largest city has toward the conservative party until we see the final vote count. But what’s certain is that the outcomes of the April legislative and December elections won’t be the same as before.

The relationship between Busan citizens and the ruling party began to sour due to feelings of betrayal and resentment that were intensified because they were sweet talked to and felt special to the party. The biggest blow came when the government decided to cancel plans to build an international airport in the area and suspend the region’s largest savings bank.

The people’s bafflement is understandable. Talk of building a new airport on Gadeok Island near Busan went on for more than a decade and few had any doubt it would actually happen. They voted for President Lee Myung-bak when he fed their dreams with a promise to complete a bridge between the new airport island and Busan.

But hopes were dashed when Daegu and North Gyeongsang - home to the president and most key members of the ruling party - suddenly raised their voices to bring the new airport to Miryang, South Gyeongsang, instead. After a bitter contest among the regional bidders, the government decided to kill the entire project.

For the people of Busan, it is not so easy to let go of a dream they lived with for 10 years. They were branded as selfish and made to believe they were of birds of a feather, but they received no help from the government when it was needed the most.

Before they could fully recover, salt was rubbed into their wounds when de facto ruling party leader Park Geun-hye renewed a bid to build an airport in the southern region as a campaign pledge. Busan people believe the word “southern” refers to Miryang at the heart of the Gyeongsang region. They have been hurt by criticism that Gadeok Island at the southeastern tip is too far away. The ruling party left out the airport project in its campaign platform because of its sensitivity. By raising the issue, Park and the other politicians from Daegu and North Gyeongsang are making a politically dangerous move.

Feeling betrayed and hurt, Busan people turned to Moon Jae-in, former chief of staff to late President Roh Moo-hyun and the chairman of the Roh Moo-hyun Foundation. His quick ascent in the polls place Moon in the lead among potential presidential candidates. He is most popular in Sasang District, western Busan, where Kim Gil-tae, the serial killer and rapist who was caught in 2010, grew up and committed abominable crimes.

Some 30 years ago, the district had been a prosperous industrial base. But the district turned into a slum when shoes, rubber and textile factories were forced to close due to a lack of competitiveness. The court, in changing Kim’s death sentence to life imprisonment, said that it took into account the poor and unfortunate environment of the neighborhood where he grew up.

Living standards in Busan are poles apart, with the rich residing in the east and the poor in the west. Haeundae District is the heart of the wealthy east, and Sasang District the heart of the poorer west. Sasang District epitomizes various social problems of Busan, a city that has lost its past stature as the country’s main port city and second-largest metropolis. Many people from other areas, including the Jeolla region, moved to Busan to seek jobs during the Sasang District’s heyday and to this day still live in the west, which is called the Nakdong River Belt. Here, the legislative election is not the problem; the people of Busan want a president from the city.

It doesn’t matter if it is Moon Jae-in or Ahn Cheol-soo, a software mogul and strong presidential hopeful. For now, Moon is their best bet. If he wins the legislative seat in the Sasang District, their dream of producing a president may come closer to reality. Busan hopes he will sweep votes from the Nakdong River Belt and become the presidential candidate from the opposition coalition.

A president from Busan cannot be a panacea for all of the city’s problems. The regional economy has been sliding for the last two decades, and ironically, Busan became the first to be sacrificed from economic modernization because it was industrialized first. We can understand why citizens want to seek momentum through political change. But politics should not be instrumental in regionalism and serving self-interests.

What is imperative for Busan is a long-term vision as well as funding to revive the struggling city. Redevelopment of industrial complexes and port renovation are costly projects. The people can raise their political voices, but they must not lose their heads in the process. They must elect someone who is qualified to restore Busan.

*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang
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