Wednesday, June 30, 2010

About handovers and hangovers

Collateral damage of the Cheonan tragedy : Korea postponed the hand over of operational control of its military affairs from US to homegrown boys with toys. In a scene worthy of Kubrick's Dr Strangelove, the top general in charge happened to be drunk at the worst moment (remember that Clinton ad about the 3 A.M. phone call ?).

No MP was allegedly wasted during the vote on Sejong City, but the parliament nonetheless sunk LEE Myung-bak's revision plan 164 to 105 (6 abstentions, zero wicket, no overtime). Retrospectively, it appears that the President perfectly manipulated that hot potato :
- in front of History, LEE did the right thing : declaring that ROH Moo-hyun's project of relocating the capital city was not only populist but wrong for the country and had to be aborted, even if that meant contradicting his own campaign pledges to go according to the initial plan*
- in front of Chungnam voters, LEE did the right thing : propose a sustainable alternative, with the contribution of wealthy backers*
- and as a shrewd politician, LEE did the right thing : using the Sejong City controversy as the ideal scapegoat following his party's electoral debacle, playing Pontius Pilate and letting the parliament curb the dog, torpedoing his Prime Minister (CHUNG Un-chan, a Sejong City opponent but also a potential presidential candidate for the opposition before this mess), destroying fellow party members who voted against the revised plan (history will remember that picture of Park Geun-hye checking NO on her computer screen, that moment when personal ambition killed her political future)... and pursuing his own insanely pharaonic pet follies (ie the even more controversial Four Rivers Project).

Of course, local elections shouldn't decide for the fate of a National Capital, and a nationwide referendum would make more sense. Furthermore, the concept was already ruled as non constitutional by the Supreme Court, and seriously edulcorated : only the PM and half of the ministries would move, actually splitting the Central Government in two and its efficiency in countless ways.

Of course, it ain't over till it's over. As they emerged from their "victory" hangover, Chungcheongnam-do voters realized their mistake and demanded the B Plan to be implemented as well because it was economically much more sustainable : big companies, who would have invested billions in that Utopia 2.0, are now freed from their engagements and courted by all other local administrations.

An embarrassment for Korea, the potato is uglier and hotter than ever, and will land on the next president's lap.

Both the military and capital handovers are supposed to happen in 2015, but I wouldn't bet a buck on either of them. More hangovers ? Now that's a sure bet.

Seoul Village 2010


* see "
Sejong City and the beauty of lameduckhood" and all posts related to Sejong City.

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