[EDITORIALS]Promises, promises

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[EDITORIALS]Promises, promises

The Millennium Democratic Party's presidential candidate, Roh Moo-hyun, met with the leader of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, Jeong Dae, and announced a series of campaign promises that concerned that religion. Among them was a pledge to scrap the plan to build a tunnel through Mount Bukhan National Park to protect the environment for the monks' meditation. The proposed tunnel has been mired in debate with seemingly irreconcilable differences between protecting the environment versus improving traffic conditions in the metropolitan area. Buddhists have been violently opposed to the plan. Mr. Roh has said nothing until now on the issue, so as a sudden announcement during a meeting with the Buddhist leader, it was dramatic and probably intended that way. It was a perfect illustration of a campaign strategy geared to Buddhist voters.

The candidate of the Grand National Party, Lee Hoi-chang, has said he was against the idea of moving the South Jeolla provincial capital away from Gwangju whenever he has been in the city. The idea was, he said, more of a political decision than a well-thought-out way of improving the lives of the people. But more than 100 billion won ($82 million) has been spent on the plan, first proposed in the Kim Young-sam administration. His promise is aimed at the region's voters.

Promises by presidential candidates should be based on consistent policy ideals. Unrealistic promises will only make things complicated for the administration, and it is difficult to recover from such mistakes. Former President Kim Young-sam's vow that there would be no rice market opening came back to haunt him and his administration.

Both Mr. Roh and Mr. Lee will be making many more promises. They will be tempted to accept demands made by interest groups that claim to command large blocks of votes. They will also try to copy good policy pledges made by the other. But the credibility of a candidate as a leader is bound to suffer if his pledges are swayed by interest groups of any kind, whether business or religious. Making promises that have little chance of being put into practice is simply old-style politics; we need good policies free of populism.
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