President's Busan Trip Is Blatant Electioneering

      February 26, 2021 13:14

      President Moon Jae-in visited Busan for the first time this year to be briefed on the development of a so-called mega-city project there. But it does not take a genius to figure out that he went there to drum up voter support ahead of the mayoral by-election in April, bypassing the awkward constitutional requirement for the president to stay above the political fray. Moon was duly briefed on the progress of a new airport on Gadeok Island in Busan and boasted that it will become a "global logistics hub." Yet plans the government drew up to build a new airport in Gimhae near Busan have not even been scrapped, and no laws have been passed to authorize the Gadeok airport. The president was blatantly soliciting votes in exchange for building an airport. It has become clear that asking Moon to abide by any regulations is now meaningless.

      Moon was accompanied by a huge entourage -- the ministers of finance, interior and safety, land, infrastructure and transport and oceans and fisheries, and the head of the ruling Minjoo Party. A day before Moon's trip, the Busan mayoral office, which is affiliated with the ruling party, remarked in passing that Gadeok Island is a key campaign pledge. So heavily is the president lobbying for the project that even the opposition party has meekly voiced support, just to avoid being left out.

      Many lawmakers say a special bill the ruling party seeks to greenlight the new airport is unprecedented for its shoddiness. The bill was prepared in a rush and it lacks the most basic components of a proposal as it even does not even provide for a feasibility study. Even the ministries of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, Strategy and Finance and Justice voiced reservations over legality and process. The new airport will cost taxpayers W28 trillion, but the plans are barely deserving of the name (US$1=W1,109).

      Moon's underhand meddling in elections probably dates back as far as the Ulsan mayoral election in 2018. The president also visited Busan ahead of the general election last year and attended large publicity events. He has also been visiting other provincial cities where votes might be up for grabs and urging voters to apply for disaster-relief money even before the payouts were officially decided. More recently, Moon raised the possibility of a fifth round of disaster-relief payouts although the size of the fourth round has yet to be set. Moon must think what he is doing is nothing compared to his predecessors, one of whom -- Park Geun-hye -- has been given a two-year jail sentence for meddling in candidate selection, while another -- Roh Moo-hyun -- faced impeachment for saying that he believed the public will support the ruling party in the general election.

      Yet the upcoming by-elections are taking place because mayors affiliated with the ruling party were undone by allegations of sexual harassment. As a result, taxpayers will have to foot the W80 billion the election is costing. It was Moon himself who created a party rule vowing not to field any candidates if a by-election was caused by wrongdoing by one of its members. But look at him now, scurrying around the country to drum up support for Minjoo Party candidates.

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