A clear choiceThe presidential election campaign is a place for animated debate over urgent issues. The presidential candidates must produce their own answers to the urgent questions facing our society. In 1987, the debate to end military rule was the leading topic, and in 1992 it was reforms of the “people’s administration.” In 1997, transition of power was the key issue, and in 2002 it was the battle between progressives and conservatives.
Chung Dong-young tried to define this election’s urgent issues shortly after he was chosen as the presidential candidate of the United New Democratic Party.
He said he opposes an economy based on the law of the jungle and he claims that the Grand National Party’s candidate Lee Myung-bak wants a “jungle economy” in which 20 percent of the populace get better off while the rest are abandoned. The 20/80 ratio was a favorite rallying device of the Roh Moo-hyun administration.
Chung believes that economic and educational polarization is the key issue in this election. The voters will be the judge.
Lee says he wants to ease polarization through growth.
He has pledged to achieve 7 percent economic growth over 10 years, an average income per capita of $40,000 by 2017 and to make Korea the world’s seventh largest economy.
He also promises to reduce corporate taxes, cut income tax revenues by 12 trillion won ($13 billion), create 500,000 jobs over five years, build a 14 trillion-won waterway across the country and lower real estate taxes.
Meanwhile, Chung emphasizes growth and a fair distribution of wealth. His target growth rate is 6 percent. He wants to raise some taxes such as the transaction tax for financial derivatives. He maintains that the government must devote more resources to improving education, job creation, housing and people’s lives after they retire.
Lee wants a smaller government, while Chung seeks a “unified” government, a term that is often used to disguise a commitment to a bigger welfare state.
The two candidates’ pledges are, in part, self-contradictory. Lee said that he would give universities full autonomy in their recruiting practices while lowering spending on private tutoring. He must present concrete measures to achieve both goals.
Chung has criticized Lee’s plan to build a canal but promotes his own pledge to develop the Korean Peninsula.
We wonder if he is aware of the adverse side effects of the incumbent government’s projects for developing administrative cities, industrial cities and innovation cities.
The debates during the presidential election campaign offer a good opportunity to examine the nation’s problems. Other important issues must be debated as well, such as the future of North Korea, reforms in public corporations, protection of press freedom, clearing the relics of the Roh Moo-hyun administration and restoring the Korea-U.S. alliance.
Debates on these concrete issues are much more meaningful for the country than the debate over whether the liberal party should field a single candidate.