Park expands on Seoul’s potential

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Park expands on Seoul’s potential


Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, a member of the major opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), will admit that there are still “backwards elements” to the city.

But “I want to make a Seoul an upright and dignified city through a government that corrects the basics,” he added.

Park sat down for an interview on Tuesday with the JoongAng Ilbo at a restaurant in Myeongnyun-dong, central Seoul, ahead of the upcoming June 4 elections, in which he is running for re-election against his Saenuri Party rival Chung Mong-joon.

In response to Chung’s criticism on his ideologies, Park said, “In name, I was, after all, a prosecutor of the Republic of Korea, and the chairman of the Seoul Integrated Defense Central Council responsible for the safety of 10 million people. So is it possible to question my patriotism and my national view?”

“Attacking the other person without respecting them or keeping good manners, I think shows a lack of dignity.”

Park, a former human rights lawyer and civil rights activist, was elected as Seoul mayor in October 2011 on an independent ticket.

Park’s major campaign pledges this time around include allotting some 2 trillion won ($1.9 billion) for the replacement of aging subway cars and other safety measures, providing school buses for elementary school students and creating 100,000 new jobs for women.

The following is an edited excerpt from the interview:

Q. How would you evaluate your two years and seven months as Seoul mayor?

A. I decreased debt and increased welfare. When I was inaugurated, the city had a debt of 20 trillion won, which was decreased by 3.5 trillion won.

About 80,000 public rental houses were built. The budget for welfare when I was inaugurated was just 26 percent [of the total budget], which was increased to 32 percent. In terms of the recent subway collision [on Seoul Metro Line No. 2 on May 2], I hold an apologetic heart for the damage and anxiety incurred upon the people.

Is Seoul safe, particularly below ground?

It is in the process of improving. We did not have the basics down when constructing the city. We did not know where the water and gas pipes ran underground. In January, we introduced comprehensive measures for underground facility management, and we are enabling all underground facilities to be captured with 3-D footage.

Some say your meticulousness doesn’t fit with a leadership position.

Nope, I’m rather intentionally meticulous. Look at the Sewol disaster ? that is representative of [the consequences of] sloppiness. The fundamentals were not met. If you don’t handle each pending issue in a meticulous manner, another Sewol disaster could happen even tomorrow.

A leader only needs to command big issues? Our country is strong in general theory and weak when it comes to the details.

You can’t see the forest for the trees.

A leader has to discern the situation. The ability to discern starts with the small things. I asked for 30 percent of the Gaepo unit in southern Seoul to consist of small apartments.

There were 5-meter placards demanding that Park Won-soon step down, but after six months, people said to make it more than 30 percent. That’s because large apartments don’t sell well.

Chung Mong-joon, the Saenuri’s mayoral candidate, criticizes your ideological bias.

The Seoul Integrated Defense Central Council, the flood control and the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency are all under me. Patriotism is not for someone to monopolize. Everyone can be patriotic in a different manner. I’ll say it again, how can I be Seoul mayor without loving Korea’s history and everything that goes along with it?

Are you still in favor of abolishing the National Security Law?

National security is fundamental and necessary for the survival of the people. It should not be destroyed. The National Security Law in the past had many problems, so as a human rights lawyer, I called for it to be reformed or abolished ? look at how much abuse and torture there was. But luckily, the law has been reformed. Through a democratic government, the cases in which it was used decreased remarkably ... though the law has still been abused, like in the espionage case recently [against Yu Wu-seong, a Korean-Chinese man who was a former Seoul city government official suspected of spying for Pyongyang].

This election is being labeled as one between the chaebol and the common people.

I don’t like that kind of composition. I’m also a graduate of Gyeonggi High School and went to Seoul National University. I was expelled from SNU, but there are many chaebol around me. Of my high school classmates, I have a friend who became a vice-chairman of a chaebol group. But I lived a difficult life together with the people in our society. I will play a role to meld together conflict in ideology, the gap between the rich and poor, and regional conflict.


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