June 30, 2010 12:42
President Lee Myung-bak's plans to turn Sejong City in South Chungcheong Province into a science and technology industry hub was thrown out in a plenary session of the National Assembly on Tuesday with 105 vote in favor, 164 against and six abstentions. Two hundred and seventy five out 291 lawmakers participated.
Lee's plan was a radical revision to a bill introduced by his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun, who wanted to move key government offices out of Seoul.
Fifty lawmakers from the majority Grand National Party -- the traditionally conservative former GNP chairwoman Park Geun-hye and her 41 followers, six middle-of-the-roaders, and two Lee followers -- voted against the bill. Of 168 GNP lawmakers, 157 were present.
In the opposition camp, a total of 114 lawmakers, including 82 Democratic Party members, 15 Liberty Forward Party lawmakers, and eight pro-Park Geun-hye group members, cast nay votes. A mere one or two lawmakers of each party or faction cross-voted.
Park stood up to explain her views, the first time she has ever made her opposition to a major issue clear at a full session since she was first elected to the National Assembly.
"The construction of Sejong should be seen from a new perspective of relieving overcrowding in the Seoul metropolitan area and achieving balanced development of the country," she said. "The issue is a matter of the future. If we want to move forward toward the future, we should send a signal that we keep our promises."
The controversy over the Sejong City project, which threatens to turn into a white elephant, was sparked in September last year when Prime Minister Chung Un-chan called for a revision of the original bill for the relocation of key government agencies.
Now the government may have to implement the original plan to relocate nine ministries and four government agencies including the Office of the Prime Minister to Sejong, and to build a multifunctional administrative city with a population of 500,000 by 2030.
But DP chairman Chung Sye-kyun told reporters after the session, "The original plan also has a 'plus alpha'" -- an element of flexibility that would encourage conglomerates such as Samsung and Hanwha to invest and include a science and business complex.
That could well lead to another round of controversy.
Being told the news during a visit to Panama, Lee pledged to respect the decision by the National Assembly, but Cheong Wa Dae spokeswoman Kim Eun-hye quoted him as saying it was "deeply regrettable."
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