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Seoul mayor candidates face off in televised debate

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Published : 2014-05-19 21:20
Updated : 2014-05-19 21:51

The two candidates contending for the Seoul mayoral post in the June elections faced off in a televised debate Monday, with both pledging to make the metropolitan city a safer place in the wake of last month’s Sewol disaster.

Ruling Saenuri Party lawmaker Rep. Chung Mong-joon and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon disagreed on how accident-free the nation’s capital had become under Park during their two-hour war of words.

Chung accused Park of not providing enough city funds for safety and ignoring the Seoul subway’s air quality problem, while Park said he had poured millions of won into resolving safety concerns.

“I understand there have been accidents during my term,” the mayor said, acknowledging his responsibility in the subway accident in Seoul’s subway Line No. 2 earlier this month. “But during my term, you will notice that the number of accidents has decreased.”

Municipal funds devoted to safety exceeded 890 billion won ($870 million) in 2014, and there were plans to commit an additional 500 billion won annually during the next four years if he were elected, Park said in response to Chung’s accusation of earmarking an insufficient safety budget.

Chung stepped up his accusations that Park had ordered subway officials to turn on ventilators for longer than usual to manipulate air-quality statistics, with 16 days left before the election for Seoul’s top administrative position.

“I am sincerely concerned that Mayor Park’s decision to turn on underground ventilators for more hours than normal is a cheap move to win in the coming election,” the seven-time lawmaker said.

Chung also said Park had allowed subway air standards to deteriorate to levels that could be considered “illegal.”

“This is something very serious,” Chung said with an embarrassed smile. “According to related laws, Mr. Park, you and I could go to prison if we don’t keep the air clean in our metros as mayors.”

Park said he could not fully understand Chung’s charges.

“One of the most important principles I’ve pursued as mayor is transparency. All the related statistics are online for all to see. I do not comprehend how (current metro air pollution levels) are illegal.”

Chung trails the former civic activist Park in recent polls by more than 20 percent, despite having an impressive political resume which includes a stint as a presidential candidate in 2002. The ruling party’s image has suffered due to the government’s handling of the Sewol ferry accident with approval ratings for President Park Geun-hye falling to just over 45 percent in the second week of May, from over 60 percent before the maritime disaster on April 16, according to Gallup Korea.

The image of the ruling party is often associated with that of the president in Korea, especially when the party has a majority in the National Assembly.

By Jeong Hunny (hj257@heraldcorp.com)

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