No rhyme or reason
Extremely heavy traffic jams are developing on Gwanghwamun Square after the Seoul Metropolitan Government pressed ahead with a renovation in the face of objections from all corners of society. The controversial Gwanghwamun Restructuring Plan initiated by the late Seoul mayor Park Won-soon has been criticized for many things beyond traffic congestion. The project seeks to move the square to the west and create new lanes on the east. But the idea came under attack shortly after Park’s announcement because of the inevitable complication of lanes and the lopsided position of the square. The Statues of King Sejong the Great and Admiral Yi Sun-sin also are to be pushed to the side.
After his restructuring plan was met with strong opposition, mayor Park contacted President Moon Jae-in and then-Minister of Interior and Safety Chin Young in August 2019 and took a step back to “review the new design from the beginning.” He promised to make a decision based on the “results of communications with Seoul citizens.” But Park committed suicide over sexual misconduct accusations 10 months later.
Then, all of a sudden, the acting Seoul mayor came up with a new blueprint for the renovation four months after his boss’s death and declared he’d start construction citing “citizens’ demands.” Should he be pushing such a project considering he is supposed to step down after the April 7 mayoral by-election? A spokesperson for the progressive Justice Party attacked the acting mayor for his reckless project. Nine civic groups including the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice filed suits to stop the renovation. Even government officials are asking why Seoul is pushing a 79.1-billion-won ($69.5-million) project so fast.
Civic groups have defined the move as an “act to restrict citizens’ rights to use the square to manifest their reactions to government policies.” In 2016, the square served as the center of anti-Park Geun-hye protesters and eventually the president was removed from office. Anti-Moon Jae-in demonstrations have increased. The city government wants to block them from the square. The stated purpose of the renovation includes the creation of a space for citizens to spend time peacefully.
The city must stop the construction so that a new mayor can reach a decision after canvassing opinions from the public. Not only mayoral candidates from the opposition, such as Oh Se-hoon and Ahn Cheol-soo, but also ruling party candidate Park Young-sun stress the need for some kind of consensus. If the city dismisses civic groups’ warnings, a new mayor, whether from the opposition or the ruling party, must first hold the acting mayor accountable for wasting citizens’ tax money.