17 passengers on a city bus were killed or injured . . .
Last Wednesday, a five-storey building under demolition collapsed at a redevelopment site in Gwangju, South Korea, and hit a city bus stopped in front of the construction site. Nine people were killed and eight more were seriously injured. President Moon Jae-in ordered the infrastructure ministry and the police to investigate and come up with countermeasures. The newly elected leader of the opposition, Lee Joon-seok, pledged to find out the causes behind this accident.
Large-scale accidents a by-product of rapid economic development . . .
As South Korea developed rapidly, infrastructure development followed at the same pace, often at the expense of safety precautions and under the acquiescence of politicians and bureaucrats. As a result, significant disasters such as the collapse of the Seongsu Bridge in 1994 (32 deaths) and the collapse of the Sampoong Department Store in 1995 (508 deaths) have scarred the country’s collective memory. The sinking of the Ferry Sewol in 2014 led to 304 deaths (including 250 high-school students) and was particularly traumatizing. The subsequent discovery of flagrant safety violations and an inadequate response from the government enraged the country. It led to the ‘Candlelight Revolution’ that resulted in the impeachment and imprisonment of ex-president Park Geun-hye.
Broader political implications . . .
Responding to the public outrage over the incident, the South Korean government has established an investigative task force at the infrastructure ministry. The police have requested arrest warrants for two people involved in the Gwangju redevelopment project, and politicians have begun to visit the site. The issue of shoddy and unsafe development is likely to provoke political discussions as South Korea prepares for the presidential election next March and local elections in June 2022.