Seoul mayoral candidates face off in first debate

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Seoul mayoral candidates face off in first debate

With less than one month left before the local elections on June 4, two major contenders in the Seoul mayoral race squared off yesterday in a spirited debate.

Chung Mong-joon of the ruling Saenuri Party, who is running against incumbent Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon of the major opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), kept the focus on Park and accused him of not doing enough for the capital city and shying away from landmark projects.

Mayor Park sought to defend himself by listing what he considers his accomplishments during his term in office since 2011.

Hosted by the Kwanhun Club, an association of senior journalists, the debate marked the first time the two rivals have sat down to officially expand on their political agendas.

They took questions for about two hours on topics including leadership style, jobs, their pledges to improve safety and plans concerning the now-defunct Yongsan development project.

Chung set the debate in motion when he described Seoul as a “sinking” city.

“Seoul is sinking and losing its charm as more people flock to other cities and businesses lag,” the Saenuri contender said. “But Mayor Park appears to have laid back and done nothing about this. I will revive Seoul’s economy by attracting foreign and private investment.”

He also pointed out that Seoul’s population had dipped below 10 million for the first time in 25 years.

Mayor Park countered his opponent, arguing that “Seoul has undergone significant changes by increasing welfare services and reducing debts.”

He also cited the growing number of tourists as one of his achievements. “The number of visitors to Seoul surpassed 10 million last year, and it will help the local job market.”

The two candidates also wrangled over how to improve the overall safety and emergency management system in the capital, a key issue following the sinking of the Sewol ferry last month.

The Seoul city government came under fire on May 2 when a Seoul Metro subway train on line No. 2 rear-ended the back of the one in front of it.

Chung accused Park of rejecting his request to jointly conduct air quality tests in the city’s subway system, to which Park answered that air quality tests were already monitored under the guidelines set by the Ministry of Environment.

In the aftermath of the collision, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced that it would replace older trains by 2022, allotting 877 billion won ($857.9 million) for maintenance.

As for the Yongsan development Project, which collapsed last year due to financial constraints, Chung maintained his position that he would gradually revive the plan to turn part of Yongsan District into an international business hub.

Meanwhile, the bereaved families of victims of Sewol ferry yesterday filed a defamation suit against his son who loosely described the anguish reactions of relatives as “uncivilized” via Facebook two days after the ship capsized.

BY PARK EUN-JEE [ejpark@joongang.co.kr]



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