[OUTLOOK]Learn from the election results

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[OUTLOOK]Learn from the election results

The local elections have ended with the governing party’s crushing defeat.
In politics, the elections are a seen as a skirmish before the general election.
But the results of these elections revealed citizens’ disappointment in and ill feelings against the economic measures designed and pursued by the current administration and the governing party.
In a mature democratic society, no elections can be free from economic issues.
The biggest reason for the governing party’s overwhelming defeat might be people’s complaints about a variety of reform measures that the government forcibly carried out.
The government has pursued microeconomic reforms such as new real estate measures and a new tax system.
It has pushed hard-line reforms in other fields that are closely related to the economy, such as the education system, despite protests from the other parties and many citizens.
These reform measures have been pursued without trying to obtain the public’s understanding and support.
Some point out that these measures have not achieved the desired goals but instead have resulted in a sluggish economy.
The real estate policy has not stabilized house prices in affluent Gangnam, or southern Seoul, but instead resulted in an ailing construction business nationwide.
The education policy has not succeeded in reviving public education. Private tutoring, attending private education institutes and studying abroad are still commonplace choices.
However, the attitude of the governing party when pursuing these reform measures was more offensive than any of its measures.
As in the expression “proud and self-righteous,” people disliked the attitude that the government and the governing party displayed when passing their bills and carrying out measures, even more than the results of the measures.
The governing party had an illusion that the working classes, which has been the natural support base for the party conveniently, would vote for it no matter how the economy might slow down.
It did not bother to try to win over the privileged classes that had to endure discrimination against them, stemming from the new real estate, tax and education policies, which harmed their assets.
It did not apologize for the negative outcomes from such measures either.
This attitude made the traditional support base turn away from the government and encouraged the conservatives to consolidate against it.
However, there is no time for the governing party and the main opposition party to indulge in disappointment and self-congratulation by the result of the elections.
These elections should have taught the lesson that reviving the economy is an important duty of politicians.
The government and politicians need to encourage investment by lifting regulations and carrying out measures that can make businessmen feel more confident.
They need to lift the many regulations against opening businesses, in order to help new companies establish themselves.
They also need to lift regulations in the metropolitan Seoul area so that more factories can be built more easily.
Many regulations on conglomerates also need to be lifted in order for the companies to do business more freely.
They need to think about the problems in a current atmosphere, which puts too much emphasis on companies’ social obligations and forces companies to make unreasonable amounts of donations.
The government should also take the lead in changing the general antipathy toward foreign capital.
It was a pity that these election campaigns were focused on the images of each party and each candidate, not on their pledges.
People can say this was because of the nation’s short history of local elections and local autonomy.
In advanced nations, candidates in local elections campaign mostly with pledges.
And by now, Korean voters have become accustomed to local elections to some extent.
Therefore, debates on pledges should be the main issue in Korea’s local elections.
Perhaps this is a baseless fear but some economic experts are expressing their worries.
That is, that the governing party, feeling huge disappointment in the results from the local elections, will design and carry out numerous measures, all aimed only to gain popularity in order to win the general election scheduled for next year.
If this happens, it will be a huge mistake of misreading the true meaning of the results of these elections.

* The writer is a professor of economics at Yonsei University.

by Lee Doo-won
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