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Ruling Party Also Resorting to Populist Tactics

Posted March. 24, 2010 08:20,   


With the June 2 local elections about 70 days away, the ruling Grand National Party is coming up with more campaign pledges of direct benefits to the people.

The promises include expanding the scope of beneficiaries for childrearing and young children’s educational subsidies (preschool education), and more free textbooks for EBS TV’s lectures on college admission tests.

All of these pledges will require a massive budget, thus the number of critics among the public and in the government are raising fears over excessive election pledges being made ahead of the elections.

The ruling party said yesterday, “We are discussing with the government the possible expansion of beneficiaries of childrearing and young children’s educational subsides and the advancing of the timing for full coverage of those expenses with the government.”

Last week, the party announced a campaign pledge “tailored” for the working class that included full childrearing and preschool expenses for children aged up to five for households in the 70th percentile or lower of income by 2015.

The government will increase family beneficiaries to benefit from the measure from those in the 70th percentile to the 80th or lower, or advance the introduction of full coverage of such expenses from 2015 to 2012, when President Lee Myung-bak’s term ends.

The move is in apparent response to the criticism of opposition parties and certain civic groups saying these measures were included the mid- to long-term government plan “Child Love Plan” on childrearing. Opponents labeled the move an “election sound bite” of the ruling camp.

The ruling party will announce additional plans for education early next month. They will reportedly include the expansion of the scope of beneficiaries for free textbooks for EBS TV’s lecture programs for college admission tests and lower electrical utility costs for education.

Last year, EBS offered 87,000 copies of the textbooks to 28,000 children from low income and underprivileged households. Since this aid benefits only 30 percent of the students from low-income families, the party wants to gradually expand this assistance to all students from low-income families.

The ruling party will also lower electrical utility fees for education. Critics say schools cannot afford to operate heating and cooling systems as required after the fees were raised 4.5 percent in November 2008 and 6.9 percent in June last year.

Strategy and Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun warned of pork-barrel pledges ahead of the local elections.

“A growing number of people have utopian thinking that we can increase benefits without paying extra,” he said in a keynote speech at a forum of experts “to assess the government’s achievements in the two years of the Lee Myung-bak administration” yesterday.

“Once a populist policy is implemented, it is very difficult to withdraw and negatively affects other sectors, which can be very serious.”

Yoon added, “Many election pledges were made without giving serious thought to ways of mobilizing resources, and they can add to the burden of the national budget.”

egija@donga.com legman@donga.com