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Presidential candidates clash over welfare policies, gender issues in final TV debate

All News 22:22 March 02, 2022

By Joo Kyung-don

SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) -- The four main presidential candidates squared off Wednesday over a range of social affairs, including welfare programs and gender issues, as they tried to woo voters in their final TV debate before the March 9 election.

The two-hour debate featured Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party, Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party, Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People's Party and Sim Sang-jeung of the progressive Justice Party.

During the debate, the two front-runners first locked horns over Lee's universal income pledge that aims to give people 1 million won (US$830) a year, which Yoon called unsustainable.

Presidential candidates pose for a group photo ahead of their TV debate at a KBS TV studio in Seoul on March 2, 2022. From left are Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party, Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party, Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party and Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

"It will cost 50 trillion won a year alone to do universal welfare with cash, and if taxes are hiked to fund the program, it will shrink corporate activities and impede growth," Yoon said. "You cannot expect a sustainable virtuous cycle of growth and welfare."

Lee defended his trademark policy, claiming universal income is also mentioned in the PPP's principle policy. The former Gyeonggi governor also emphasized his welfare programs can be afforded without a tax hike.

"We can prepare it sufficiently by managing the source of tax revenue, such as restructuring tax expenditures, closing tax loopholes, as well as taking account of a natural increase (in fiscal finance)," he said.

Lee and Yoon also clashed over COVID-19 relief grants, with Lee arguing over why the PPP switched its stance from time to time, and Yoon claiming his side has been consistent throughout.

Ahn and Sim both questioned the two leading contenders' funding plans. Ahn suggested he would focus more on getting rid of blind areas in welfare, while Sim said she would pursue welfare programs with tax hikes and ask wealthier people to share the burden.

When it comes to their solutions on the decreasing population, Lee said he would tackle the problem by expanding opportunities to young people with sustainable economic growth.

Yoon called for enhancing the structure of the country's competitive society before thinking about support measures.

The two leading candidates later also exchanged words over gender issues, with Lee criticizing Yoon's pledge of abolishing the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.

Yoon replied gender issues should not be approached with the concept of equal rights for both sexes by dividing groups.

The two also dueled over the definition of feminism, with Yoon saying he believes it is a part of humanism, and Lee saying it is a campaign correcting the discrimination and inequality of women.

Wednesday's debate was the third and last to be hosted by the National Election Commission, the state election watchdog.


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