Both the ruling and opposition parties are making outrageous pledges, such as extremely expensive development plans or giveaways, for the upcoming by-elections for the mayors of Seoul and Busan on April 7. From the beginning of the mayoral elections to fill the remaining tenure of 15 months, pledges that require an alteration of the country have been proposed. For the Seoul by-election, pledges, such as building public housing by creating artificial land over one-third of the Gangbyeon Expressway and the Olympic Highway by Woo Sang-ho of the Democratic Party of Korea or restructuring Seoul into 21 cores and installing vertical gardens by Park Young-sun of the same party, are raising the questions of feasibility and economic viability.
The housing supply plans by opposition candidates – supplying 746,000 houses for five years by Ahn Cheol-soo of the People Party or 360,000 houses for 5 years by Oh Se-hoon of the People Power Party – all lack specific plans of where and how they will be built. Meanwhile, Cho Eun-hee of the People Power Party is claiming that Park Young-sun’s pledge to restructure Seoul into a multi-core city and making the parts of the Gyeongbu Expressway in Seoul underground were originally her ideas. Park dismissed the claim by saying that the concept is different.
Competition over “giveaway” pledges is also intense. The most noticeable example is the pledge of Na Kyung-won of the People Power Party to provide up to 117 million won in grants to those who get married and give births in Seoul. Other candidates chasing after Na are also pouring out cash-based welfare pledges, such as providing pandemic support to all small business owners separately from the central government’s and grants to those who take care of their grandchildren.
In Busan, the Centre Party has proposed large-scale development plans to boost the local economy. The Democratic Party of Korea has pledged to make the new airport in Gadeok Island an irreversible national project while the People Power Party has agreed with the Gadeok airport project and proposed building an underwater tunnel connecting South Korea and Japan. Individual candidates have suggested a number of pledges whose feasibility is not guaranteed.
Even if the candidates elected during the upcoming by-elections are re-elected during local elections in June 2021, most of their pledges cannot be carried out within the yearly budgets of Seoul and Busan, which are about 40 trillion won and 12 trillion won, respectively. It is highly likely that the pledges will only raise the expectations of Seoul and Busan citizens for grants and development benefits without much outcome. Voters should be aware that such pledges are simply the election strategy of candidates to temporarily boost their recognition levels and approval ratings to choose a proper leader of a local government
Yong-Gwan Jung firstname.lastname@example.org