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How contradicting pres. campaign pledges could hurt Korea

How contradicting pres. campaign pledges could hurt Korea

Posted December. 14, 2012 05:09,   


Certain campaign promises of presidential candidates are said to be populist pledges that contradict their other pledges or policies, fueling fears that their incompatibility could harm the consistency and probability of promised policies.

“(Presidential runners) seem to have determined to promise everything that looks good as the electoral competition has grown neck and neck,” one expert said.

The candidates, however, have not commented on "inconvenient truths" that can adversely affect voters or critical issues that the next president must decide.

The Korea Development Institute, the country`s leading state-run think tank, said in a report released Thursday that state support for childcare costs must be seriously considered because it could lower the willingness of women to work, which will deal a blow to the country`s desperate bid to utilize its idle workforce. Finland and Norway saw a fall in their female workforce after introducing governmental support for childcare.

Both the ruling Saenuri Party’s presidential candidate Park Geun-hye and her main opposition rival Moon Jae-in have pledged public support for childcare and higher female participation in economic activities. Neither of them, however, has responded to skepticism that the two pledges contradict each other.

The two candidates` pledges of halving university tuition and reducing youth unemployment have been criticized for contradicting each other. Experts say lower tuition will exacerbate "education inflation" and raise the number of unemployed youth because of more severe competition among college graduates, not to mention negatively affect the momentum of hiring high school graduates by companies. Experts say the promise to create jobs by both candidates is also unrealistic for the same reason.

Park has promised to increase and maintain the number of jobs and raise their quality, while Moon has pledged to create jobs, share them, and help non-regular workers to become permanent staff. In a nutshell, they have promised to increase the quality and quantity of jobs. Sohn Min-jung, a senior researcher at the Seoul-based Samsung Economic Research Institute, said, “When the economy is very good, such promises can be kept. Yet the candidates must set priorities among their promises because the economy is very bad now. Increasing the number of jobs while raising pay and restricting layoffs will have a limit.”

One example of an infeasible policy mix is the pledge to build more roads and airports while curtailing the number of civil engineering and construction projects deemed unnecessary. Yet another example is the promise to increase social welfare spending while expanding finances for municipal and provincial governments. “Trying to restrict businesses that create jobs while intending to increase the number of jobs seems to be the biggest contradiction,” one economist said.

The candidates have turned their backs on needed but thorny or urgent issues because such matters do not attract voters. Turning a blind eye to critical issues that the next president must handle could constitute dereliction of duty.

A case in point is disposal of nuclear waste. In Korea, high-level nuclear waste has been temporarily kept at four nuclear reactors. Interim storage facilities must be secured no later than 2014 because existing facilities are expected to reach their limits soon. The two leading contenders have yet to present a solution on this problem for fear that they might lose voters from the regions where the proposed sites are located.

Neither of them has also mentioned whether to raise power rates. To relieve chronic power shortages that occur every year, the government must encourage people to save electricity by raising electric charges. Yet the two candidates have said nothing on hikes in household power fees, which take up the biggest share in heating and cooling demand. On other sensitive topics, including raising cigarette prices or reforming the deficit-ridden pension of civil servants, Park and Moon have not clarified their stances.

“Though scholars have worked for the election camps of the two candidates, politically unpopular policies have been excluded. Responsible politicians would release their positions even on unpopular policies,” said Mok Jin-hyu, a public administration professor at Kookmin University.

Cho Dong-geun, an economics professor at Myongji University, also said, “If you look at the campaign promises, they seem like they`re saying, `I’ll hurt you without really hurting you,` or, `I’ll speed up without stepping on the accelerator.` No matter who takes office, the next president will have to withdraw many of his or her pledges."