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Voters want new Seoul mayor to seek realistic goals

A voter casts ballot at a polling station at Itaewon Elementary School in Yongsan District, Seoul, Wednesday, when by-elections for new Seoul and Busan mayors took place. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
A voter casts ballot at a polling station at Itaewon Elementary School in Yongsan District, Seoul, Wednesday, when by-elections for new Seoul and Busan mayors took place. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Busan citizens pin high hopes on new airport

By Nam Hyun-woo

Residents of Seoul and Busan cast their ballots Wednesday to elect new mayors who will manage the country's largest and second-largest cities.

Since the by-election day was not designated as a holiday, citizens having to go to work or school formed long queues in front of polling stations in Seoul and Busan from early in the morning.

"I came to vote early because our company guideline was to vote before coming to the office," Shin Chae-eun, an office worker, said at a polling station in Mapo District in Seoul at around 7 a.m. "It was a bit of surprise that so many people were waiting."

As the by-elections marked the second election taking place here amid the COVID-19 pandemic following last year's general election, voters seemed to be accustomed to the hygiene requirements before casting their ballots. Election staff took the temperature of voters, who had to wear face masks and disposable gloves provided at the polling stations to prevent potential contamination.

"As we already experienced an election last year, the process seems to be smoother than then," a voter in her 40s said at a polling station in Samcheong-dong.

Minor incidents were reported at some polling stations. In Busan, a man in his 40s was taken to hospital by local police after breaking a glass door at a polling station in Sasang District. At another in Ahyeon-dong, Seoul, a man in his 50s attempted to damage a ballot box and is currently undergoing police questioning.

A voter using a crutch enters a polling station in Hapjeong-dong, Seoul, Wednesday, to cast a ballot to select the new Seoul mayor. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul
A voter using a crutch enters a polling station in Hapjeong-dong, Seoul, Wednesday, to cast a ballot to select the new Seoul mayor. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul

Opinions for new mayors

As of 11 p.m., Oh Se-hoon of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) was leading Park Young-sun of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) 56.6 percent to 40.4 percent. Park Heong-joon, PPP candidate for Busan mayor post, was also ahead of DPK's Kim Young-choon by 63.1 percent to 34.2 percent.

Voters expressed various opinions on what they expected from the new Seoul and Busan mayors, with the issue of real estate and home prices at the top of their list of matters of concern.

However, the voters said they don't expect the new Seoul mayor to bring big changes to the landscape of the city. They demanded the mayor focus on realistic goals that can be achieved within their one-year term.

"Candidates are pouring out pledges on housing and transportation which are bound to make Seoul a massive construction site," said Choi Yong-jin, 55, a self-employed worker in Mapo District.

"Given that the new mayor has only slightly over one year in office, I don't believe many of the pledges will actually happen. Rather, I hope the new mayor will come up with policies that can yield results during the short period, or make sure the policies are consistent regardless of which party wins the next local election."

Among major candidates for the Seoul mayoral post, Oh of the PPP and his rival Park of the ruling DPK have placed housing and construction policies as the backbone of their pledges.

Of them, Oh promised to offer 360,000 new homes over the next five years, and said he will encourage the private sector to provide 185,000 of them as remodeled homes by lifting certain regulations.

Given the short term of the new Seoul mayor, however, there is growing skepticism as to whether any of their pledges can be realized.

"I have been living in Seoul for five years and find home prices and rent in the city to be really volatile," said Kim Seul-gi, 22, an office worker. "I do want the mayor to ease citizens' concerns on homes, but I'm not sure whether the pledges will be effective."

Kim Jae-yoon, 41, an office worker in Jongno District, said it was unfortunate that everything about the election was focused on real estate.

"Even though there seems to be a plenty of pending issues, such as the environment and social welfare, candidates are dishing out unrealistic real estate policies," Kim said. "I hope the new mayor and the elected party will expand their scope into various fields and find out what is really necessary for citizens."

Voters also called on the new Seoul mayor to transcend partisan politics and focus on making Seoul a better place to live in.

"Some say the gender equality issue is important, while others say real estate policy is crucial, but all I see is that the candidates are trapped in partisanship and using smear campaigns accusing each other of real estate speculation," said Park Jun-sung, 28, a graduate school student.

"Rather than supporting a certain candidate or a party because of their policies, it is like voting for somebody because I don't like the opposing party. No matter who becomes the mayor, I hope the person won't get bogged down by political bickering."

Kim Jina, 34, who works in the services industry, also expressed her hope that the new Seoul mayor will be able to separate politics from work and make efforts for the welfare of Seoul. "Especially, I hope the mayor will pay greater attention to people who have fallen through the cracks of the social welfare system," she said.

Citizens vote for Busan mayor at a polling station set up inside a clothing store in the Jung District of the city, Wednesday. Yonhap
Citizens vote for Busan mayor at a polling station set up inside a clothing store in the Jung District of the city, Wednesday. Yonhap

'Busan as logistics hub'

Citizens of Busan had high hopes for their new mayor to accelerate the construction of a new international airport on Gadeok Island near the southern port city and to create more jobs in the local economy.

"I want the new Busan mayor to complete the work related to the establishment of the new airport on Gadeok Island and begin construction as soon as possible, as I believe that is what most Busan citizens want," said Lee Jae-gyeong, 37, who works at a trading company in the port city. "Also, the new mayor will need to make preparations for the decreasing population in the city and come up with ideas to raise the competitiveness of local universities."

Building the new international airport has emerged as the top issue in Busan and surrounding southeastern region.

Amid controversies over the airport's location and feasibility, the National Assembly passed a bill in February allowing the airport project to bypass a mandatory feasibility study, and the transport ministry scrapped plans to expand the existing airport in nearby Gimhae late last month, virtually finalizing Gadeok Island as the new airport's location.

Both DPK candidate Kim and PPP candidate Park claim they are the right person to carry out the project, with voters having high hopes for trickle down effects of a population inflow and local economic revival.

"Due to a decreasing number of jobs, there is a decline in the younger population. I expect the new mayor to develop Busan into a world-class logistics hub, connecting the new airport on Gadeok Island and Busan North Port to create more jobs and resuscitate Busan's reputation as the second-largest city in Korea," said Son Eun-jin, a shipbuilding industry worker in her 30s.


Nam Hyun-woo namhw@koreatimes.co.kr


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