A season for absurd promises

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A season for absurd promises

Political parties are locked in a populist showdown to win votes in the June 2 gubernatorial elections. The five opposition factions have uniformly promised to provide free lunches to all elementary and middle school students. The ruling Grand National Party has also turned out policies aimed to support the livelihood of the working class.

Finance Minister Yoon Jeung-hyun recently estimated the cost of the vague and idealistic campaign promises now generously gushing forth from ruling and opposition parties at around 6 trillion won ($5.4 billion). Talk has always been cheap in an election season, and this year there seems to be a blue-light special.

In response to the free school meal campaign by the opposition camp, the GNP has proposed increasing eligibility for free lunches to 26.4 percent of all students by 2012 from the current 13 percent. It also promises to pay day care and kindergarten expenditures for low- and middle-income households.

The ruling party has also promised to raise government subsidies for pregnant women’s hospital fees to 500,000 won from the current 300,000 won and to seek tax exemptions for public transportation spending by workers. In less than a month, the party has come up with nine policies to win voters’ hearts.

Among them are some workable, even winning ideas. The history of welfare policy has always depended on elections. But no one cares to speak on the economics of the policies: How they plan to fund the new spending and at what cost.

It is also strange how politicians seem to concoct innovative policies to care for the public only during an election season. It is understandable for opposition parties, but for the ruling party to resort to populism looks irresponsible.

When election season comes, politicians habitually tour group homes and other facilities for the needy. Impractical election promises are also a part of their exhibitionist campaign tradition. Such practices are no different from the free handouts of slippers and drinks in the past, because it will be the voters who end up picking up the tab. Without funding, their promises are bound to be broken. It is hypocritical to make promises one cannot keep.

Moreover, it goes against the fundamental idea of an autonomous regional system for the central party to get too involved in gubernatorial elections that select governors, mayors and council members. In these elections, local governments and candidates should be left to compete to better serve residents of their own constituencies. If party headquarters wants to get involved, it should at least present platforms with a workable budget plan.
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