Court Rules "Capital Move" Unconstitutional
Ruling Uri Party in Disarray over the Decision
By Yoav Cerralbo
Editor / Staff Writer
The brakes have been put hard on South Korean President Roh Moo-Hyun's controversial plan to relocate the capital to the central part of the country. On Thursday Oct. 21, the Constitution Court's 8-1 decision of its nine members ruled that the costly plan to move the administrative capital is unconstitutional. The ruling was in favor of the 169 citizens — which were made up of Seoul City councillors and university professors — contesting that the project lacks a national consensus and thus infringes on the people's basic rights. "People's basic rights to vote were seriously harmed as the relocation project was pursued without gaining national consensus. The president should have put the matter to a public vote, but he didn't. This violates the basic voting rights of the people," said Constitutional Court President Yoon Young-Chul while reading the verdict. The ruling was a hard blow to the president because the plan to move the capital was one of his signature pledges in the 2002 presidential election.
|Nine-members Constitutional Court justices make a ruling against government's capital relocation plan at its building in Jae-dong, Jongro-gu, Seoul Oct. 21, 2004.|
The ruling was met with mixed reactions as Seoul City and the opposition Grand National Party gained an important victory in this debate while the Presidential house, Chong Wa Dae and residents of both Chungcheong Provinces were at a loss. The presidential office and officials in the ruling Uri Party looked shocked. Some of them even expressed their disappointment at the court, saying the ruling will trigger a "grave situation." "The court made a political decision," an official said. "I am sure the justices have been affected by the strong objection of the Seoul City government and the opposition Grand National Party (GNP)." The ruling said, "In order to push for the capital relocation, the government and legislature should have revised the Constitution. But they didn't."
|Mayor Lee Victorious:|
Seoul Mayor Lee Myung-Bak is entering his press conference room at Seoul City Hall building in downtown Seoul Oct. 21. right after the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional the government's capital relocation plan. Mayor Lee has been strongly objected to President Roh Moo-Hyun's and his ruling Uri Party's capital relocation plan. Courtesy YNA
The ruling seems to have put the Uri Party in disarray with Roh and his aides reportedly considering an option to hold a referendum and Prime Minister Lee Hae-Chan saying that he respects the court's ruling and the government will immediately stop legal activities concerning the project. Right after the court's decision, presidential aides held a closed-door meeting before expressing regret over the court's ruling. "It is a victory for people who try to protect rules for the people and democracy," Seoul City Mayor Lee Myung-Bak said. "With the court ruling, we will try to defend the people's basic right and Seoul City, which has been the capital for 600 years." The GNP welcomed the court's ruling as the "right" decision because they believe that the government's plan lacks the people's consensus. In last year's National Assembly, the GNP agreed to pass a special bill to relocate the capital to the Chungcheong Provinces with an aim to gain support from the area in the April National Assembly elections.
|Grim-faced ruling Uri Party leadership: Chairman Leel Bu-Young (center) of ruling Uri Party and other leaders looks gloomy Oct. 21, 2004 right after the Constitutional Court's ruling in disfavor of their capital relocation plan. Courtesy YNA|
Citizens criticized Rho's plan as being politically motivated to win the hearts of voters from the Chungcheong Provinces. On the other hand, the government claimed the relocation was the only way to balance regional development and resolve the overpopulation issues in the metropolitan area surrounding Seoul.
|Bright Grand National Party leadership: Chairman Park Geun-Hye (center) of opposition Grand National Party are shining in her talks with other leaders Oct. 21, 2004 following Constitutional Court's ruling supportive of its objection to the government's capital relocation plan. Courtesy YNA|
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Yoav Cerralbo, who studied journalism at Concordia Univ. in Montreal, Quebec, serves as staff writer/editor of The Seoul Times. The 35-year-old Quebecer also writes for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. about S. Korea. Previously, he worked on a syndicated radio travel show as a correspondent, co-host, and online editor. As a Concordia student he was the host of a comedy radio show which poked fun of everything and anything.