[2018 Local elections] Seoul mayoral candidates clash over air pollution

By Jo He-rim
  • Published : May 31, 2018 - 16:50
  • Updated : May 31, 2018 - 16:50

Seoul mayoral candidates clashed on the worsening air pollution in the city during Wednesday‘s televised election debate, with the attacks directed at the current mayor Park Won-soon who is running for his third term.

In the 2-hour-long televised debate hosted by local broadcaster KBS at 10 p.m., the four mayoral candidates of parliamentary negotiating groups also spoke on housing and LGBTQ issues. 

From left: Kim Moon-soo of main opposition Liberty Korea Party, Ahn Cheol-soo of center-left opposition Bareunmirae Party, Park Won-soon of ruling Democratic Party of korea and Kim Jong-min of far-left Justice Party (Captured from KBS)

Kim Moon-soo, former Gyeonggi Provincial governor and main opposition Liberty Korea Party‘s mayoral candidate, claimed that the level of airborne dust particles has risen during Park’s two terms as mayor, staring in 2011. “The situation has become so serious that everyone now has to wear masks outside, but Park has done nothing right during his terms as Seoul Mayor,” Kim said.

Ahn Cheol-soo, a former presidential candidate of center-right opposition Bareunmirae Party, also criticized Park’s policy to provide free public transportation to the citizens, saying he wasted 14.5 billion won ($13.4 million). On Jan. 15, 17 and 18, the city government provided free public transportation for Seoul citizens during morning and evening rush hours as part of its emergency measures to combat high levels of airborne particulate matters.

“You have published city posters to persuade citizens to take public transportation to reduce the fine dust level. But did you know that the dust particle level is three times higher inside the subway trains?” Ahn said.

Park fired back, saying the level of fine dust in Gyeonggi Province was much higher in the years from 2006 to June 2014, when Kim was in office as the governor.

“Seoul has made all kinds of efforts on its own, but it is located in the middle of Gyeonggi Province and the air mixes. Do you think the responsibility lies solely with the Seoul Mayor?” Park said.

“I admit the current state of air pollution is not good. But I have steadily worked on the issue, from launching a consultative group with 13 cities from northeastern countries, including China, to improve the air quality,” Park said.

As the debate mainly revolved around air pollution and what Park had done wrong in the last seven years, Kim Jong-min of far-left Justice Party attacked Kim Moon-soo and Ahn for not coming up with practical measures of their own.

“The citizens are giving us yellow cards. What did your parties do to reduce the airborne fine dust particles? We all agree that the atmosphere is bad. People want specific measures,” Kim Jong-min said.

During the debate which was aired live, the candidates also touched on the LGBTQ issue. Kim Moon-soo of the conservative Liberty Korea Party attacked Kim Jong-min’s pledge to legally allow companion relationships, saying it is in line with Park’s support for homosexuality. Companion relationship is a concept that allows for diverse forms of families and is not limited exclusively to homosexual relationships.

“Your pledge goes in line with how Park has supported the annual queer festival for the past three years. It is the same as legalizing homosexuality,” Kim said. “If homosexuality is allowed, how would you deal with outbreaks of AIDS and the low birth rate problem?”

While in office, Park approved the annual queer festivals to take place in Seoul Square, in front of the City Hall building.

Kim Jong-min lashed back, expressing regret over his opponent’s statements.

“I am greatly disappointed with your hateful statement that tramples on human rights. Every time I see you, I feel your politicking is from the Paleolithic Era,” he said.

In the latest poll by Hankook Research on Wednesday, Park topped the list by garnering 54.2 percent approval rate from 800 respondents, as Kim Moon-soo followed far behind with 15.3 percent. Ahn came in third with 13.1 percent as Kim Jong-min of Justice Party posted at 1.1 percent.

By Jo He-rim (