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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on April 8)

All News 06:49 April 08, 2020

Populism mars election
Rival parties hit for 'more relief money' pledges

Both the ruling and opposition parties are inviting criticism for going too far in floating the idea of granting more "emergency disaster relief money" to more people. This suggests they are all too engrossed in wooing voters with populist campaign pledges ahead of the April 15 general election. It also gives the impression that they don't care about the country's fiscal health, but only about winning at the polls.

Hwang Kyo-ahn, chairman of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), started the competition for the money provision. On Sunday, he proposed giving 500,000 won to every citizen to help them ride out the difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. His suggestion came after the government announced a plan to provide relief money for the bottom 70 percent income group.

His proposal, if implemented, will require 26 trillion won ($21 billion), much higher than the 7.1 trillion won for the government's plan. A four-member household could receive 2 million won in financial support under Hwang's proposal, compared with the 1 million won maximum set by the Moon Jae-in administration. In a nutshell, Hwang's idea is seen as the culmination of populism.

Hwang even betrayed the firm principle he and his conservative party have so far maintained, that the government should refrain from offering money directly to citizens. This represents a shift from his focus on fiscal soundness to bigger spending on the coronavirus relief program. How could he have made such an abrupt change overnight?

What's more serious is that the governing Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) is also jumping on the bandwagon of populism. On Monday, DPK Chairman Lee Hae-chan suggested that the relief money should be granted to all the people regardless of their income level. If his proposal is adopted, the government needs an estimated 13 trillion won, 5.9 trillion won more than its original plan. Lee cannot deflect criticism that he and his party are also resorting to reckless and irresponsible campaign pledges. Simply put, the DPK is no different from the UFP in resorting to populism.

The ruling party has already come under attack for undermining electoral reform designed to make it easier for smaller parties to win proportional representation seats. It lambasted the UFP, which opposed the reform, for creating a satellite party to take up as many of those seats as possible. Then the DPK also set up its own satellite parties for the same purpose. Voters can hardly understand why the DPK pushed so adamantly for electoral reform.

It is also nonsense for the governing party to renege on its agreement with the government that they will provide the aid to 70 percent of the country's households, accounting for 35 million people. Breaking the agreement may boost the chances for an election win. But it will inevitably lose the public's trust.

We urge the rival parties not to cross the line. Instead they should play fair and square. They must make efforts to ensure populism finds no place in elections and politics.

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