[Editorial] Democratic process needs to be restored in Jeju naval base dispute

Posted on : 2011-09-05 13:36 KST Modified on : 2011-09-05 13:36 KST

The first in a planned series of Peace Concerts finished without incident in Gangjeong Village, where citizens from Jeju Island and elsewhere are rallying against the building of a naval base.
Through the event, citizens communicated peacefully but forcefully that the solution to the difficulties there would come through halting construction and following democratic procedures. The arguments about “potential large-scale clashes” given by police as they trampled through the protest site proved nothing more than excuses or outright deception.
Attention is focusing in particular on the fact that Jeju Island residents are taking direct action. Jeju residents accounted for around 1,500 of the 2,000 or so participants. For the first time in years, islanders oppressed by the wounds suffered from the April 3 Massacre in 1948 have begun to take action. This is why observers are noting parallels with that spring 63 years ago, when residents developed concrete self-rescue measures against the brutality of waves of troops that had come in from the mainland. For this reason, the concert event also showed a clear contrast between the residents' desire for peace and the brutality of government forces.
There is nothing so dangerous as a clash between the citizens who hold sovereign rights and the government that exercises some of these rights on their behalf. Such a development is a dead end. It is the National Assembly that should be working to prevent this, bearing as it does unlimited responsibility to voters. Yet the response to date from the National Assembly and politicians has been disappointing. A lot of the blame falls on the ruling party, which has contented itself with the role of the executive's handmaiden, but one cannot overlook the incompetence shown by the opposition.
The Gangjeong naval base issue is of a different order from the situation at Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction. When the latter erupted, politicians sat by and did nothing as it escalated from a labor-management conflict to a conflict between business and civil society. As a result, they incurred distrust. But the Gangjeong issue is one in which the government is facing off against residents of Jeju island. Its character and severity are fundamentally different. Furthermore, it became an international issue long ago. If the construction project is carried out under the present environment of divided public opinion, we will be unable to avoid quarrels with China, which fears this is part of an effort to encircle it.
Now is the time for the National Assembly to take active steps to resolve the issue. The ruling Grand National Party says it is opposed to involvement by politicians, but it must not repudiate the very role of the National Assembly. To do so would be to bring political distrust upon itself. The reason for the situation's deterioration lies in the government's disregard for democratic procedure.
Its basis for carrying out the construction was a sham of a general residents' meeting vote called and decided by only around 80 of the village's 1,000 or so residents, a contingent that had been taken in with sweet talk. This alone is enough to render the base construction approval null and void. Steps must be taken at once to ensure the decision follows a democratic procedure. They in general need to hear what must be heard from Jeju residents and South Koreans and engage in persuasive efforts as necessary. They must show that democracy compromised by the executive remains alive.

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