Lee Jae-myung, the ruling Democratic Party’s presidential candidate, keeps changing his words about major campaign promises and policies. On Monday, Lee indicated that he might withdraw the campaign promise about a tentatively named land possession tax, which he had said he would introduce to use for basic income, one of his critical campaign promises. Lee suddenly withdrew the argument that he had strongly pushed ahead with, despite the government’s dismissive attitude, that COVID-19 cash subsidies should be given out to all people.
The Democratic Party of Korea praises itself by flattering that Lee’s withdrawal of his own campaign promise “shows Lee’s openness” and “practical attitude,” but the truth is that Lee initially proposed the populist promise but decided to withdraw it afterwards because of unenthusiastic public sentiment, making it clear that such promise would not help him win a vote. Just weeks ago, Lee argued that taking issue with basic income land tax (i.e., land possession tax) because of baseless worries, even if he or she does not in top 10 percentile in terms of real estate possession, is the same as getting fooled by manipulative media and corrupt political power. As for COVID-19 cash handouts, the ruling party’s floor leader pressurized the Ministry of Economy and Finance by arguing that national investigation would be carried out until just the day before Lee withdrew the campaign promise.
It is not uncommon for a politician to change his attitude about a policy that has negative public feedback. The problem lies in the uncertainty over whether Lee genuinely gave up on the campaign policy or simply pulled out to save his skin in the face of unfavorable circumstances. In early July, when the Democratic Party’s primaries were under way, Lee had said, “I would not say that basic income is my prime campaign promise,” but started to carry on the promise since his win in the primary.
The ambiguity in the reasons for the change in thoughts is also fueling the doubts about Lee’s real intention. Upon taking back his argument on eligible recipients of COVID-19 cash handouts, Lee cited the opposition parties’ strong objection and the government’s offhand rejection. Regarding land possession tax, he said that a tax increase is impossible if people are opposed thereto. Lee initially criticized the main opposition People Power Party’s presidential candidate Yoon Seok-youl’s campaign promise that he would allocate 50 trillion won to help the self-employed and small business owners, but later changed his mind and said he would too.
It is not blamable for a presidential candidate to push for an agenda because it is politically advantageous, then renege on a populist campaign promise that either has a low feasibility for success or bears the risk of side effect. However, he should first truthfully explain why he had a change of heart to voters. It is shameful of the ruling party’s presidential candidate to slip away from his promise under the excuse of the objection from the people, government, and opposition parties.