[Editorial] Anachronistic spirit
Yoon’s pledge for a shopping complex gets positive response in liberal stronghold
Published : Feb 23, 2022 - 05:30
Updated : Feb 23, 2022 - 05:30
The pledge by Yoon Suk-yeol, the presidential candidate of the opposition People Power Party, to make efforts to attract a shopping complex to Gwangju has emerged as an election issue.

“Gwangju citizens are longing to have a shopping complex that all other big cities have, but the Democratic Party of Korea has opposed the entrance of one into the city,” Yoon said, “Does the ruling party have the right to keep a large shopping mall off Gwangju despite citizens wanting one?”

Yoon vowed efforts to attract a shopping complex to the city if elected president.

Then, a Democratic Party presidential campaign committee to protect the livelihoods of the economically disadvantaged condemned his pledge as “a trifling trick to get votes by harming the Gwangju spirit of coexistence and solidarity.” The Gwangju Democratic Party chairperson criticized Yoon for degrading the city, which has traditionally been a stronghold for the party.

Gwangju residents expressed discontent at their poor shopping options in comparison to other metropolitan cities such as Incheon, Daejeon, Daegu and Ulsan. Though Gwangju is the sixth most populous city with 1.44 million people, it has no shopping complexes such as Starfield, and a domestic retailer opened Gwangju‘s first warehouse discount store on Jan. 21. Costco, an American multinational warehouse discount chain, operates stores in Seoul, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan, Ulsan, Incheon and others, but not in Gwangju.

They viewed as preposterous the ruling party’s mention of the “Gwangju spirit” regarding the matter of attracting a shopping complex.

It is rare for a pledge by a candidate from a conservative party over an issue related to the traditional liberal stronghold to draw a positive response.

It seems the people of Gwangju vented suppressed feelings with a lack of shopping conveniences attributable largely to neglect by politicians and civic groups associated with the ruling party.

As public opinion turned against the Democratic Party’s criticisms of Yoon’s pledge, its Gwangju headquarters, which has so far claimed to advocate for small shops along an ideology of economic equality and democracy, went back on their position, saying it had not opposed the idea of attracting a shopping complex.

And yet it is obvious that local politicians and civic groups have obstructed the entrance of large shopping facilities under the pretext of protecting small stores.

In 2015, a local department store pushed to build a shopping complex in Gwangju only to back off amid opposition from the Democratic Party’s committee for the disadvantaged, civic groups and local small stores.

The Democratic Party’s presidential candidate Lee Jae-myung said at that time that he opposed the opening of a shopping complex in Gwangju, raising concerns that it would annihilate the small stores that were currently there.

For a decade, large stores have been required to be closed two days a month to protect small stores. The Democratic Party pushed last year to extend the regulation to shopping complexes.

In Gwangju, liberal politicians and local civic groups have been influential on regional politics thanks to the strong symbolic image of the city as a hotbed of Korea’s democracy movement. However, this has hindered large companies from launching new businesses in Gwangju.

The issue of rolling out a shopping complex must be dealt with from the standpoint of retailers and consumers.

Local residents have a view that a shopping complex will upgrade their economic life. According to an opinion poll by a local newspaper in July last year, 58 percent of respondents said Gwangju must try hard to attract a warehouse discount store or shopping complex. The numbers for those in their 20s and 30s exceeded 72 and 77 percent, respectively.

Consumer demands are changing and so are retail industry trends. Small stores are not automatically protected by blocking the entry of a shopping complex. The Democratic Party and civic groups have long monopolized local politics by tightly grasping the “Gwangju spirit.” It is time their anachronistic attitude changed to meet the people’s changing demands.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)