Rhyu disses DP’s welfare pledge

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Rhyu disses DP’s welfare pledge


Rhyu Si-min, a leader of the People’s Participation Party, in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday on Feb. 10. By Cho Yong-chul

"노 전 대통령 땐 복지에 반대하더니 민주당, 실현가능성 없는 정책 내놔”

A heated debate over the welfare pledges of the Democratic Party has flared up within the liberal camp as the main opposition party and Rhyu Si-min, former welfare minister and adviser to the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, exchanged harsh statements.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo Sunday, Rhyu - who will become the head of the minority opposition People’s Participation Party - candidly criticized the Democrats’ pledges of broader welfare programs as campaign gimmicks.

Questioning his motive, the Democrats said Rhyu was trying to position himself as a pragmatic liberal ahead of the 2012 election year, in which both the legislature and the president will be elected.

The 51-year-old former Democrat criticized the DP’s pledge of free school lunches, medical care for all, free child care and half-priced college tuition for low-income families. “They are nothing more than slogans,” Rhyu said. “They may be election catchphrases, but it’s not the right way for politicians to have a discussion. Policy is politics.”

Rhyu also said the DP is losing support not only because of its unfeasible policies, but because it is losing the public’s trust. “When there is no trust, the people do not believe any policy pledges,” he said. “And when wrong policies are pledged, more trust will be lost.”

Questioning the feasibility of the DP’s pledges, Rhyu compared them to the “747” pledge made by President Lee Myung-bak during the 2007 campaign, when he promised that Korea would reach 7 percent GDP growth, hit $40,000 per capita income and become the seventh-largest economy.

“We must not do ephemeral politics,” he said. “We must have a long-term view and win public trust to run the country. But the Democrats were presenting unfeasible pledges that were no different from Lee’s promises.”

Rhyu’s interview quickly enraged the Democrats, and they questioned the liberal political heavyweight’s motive for attacking the largest opposition party.

It was not the first time that Rhyu challenged the DP’s policies, but the liberal camp is trying to prevent schisms ahead of 2012 and April’s by-elections.

In last June’s local elections they discovered that a united front ? fielding only one liberal candidate per race - was a winning strategy against the conservative ruling Grand National Party.

“He didn’t even study our plans deeply and just launched a political attack,” DP’s spokesman Lee Chun-seok said Monday. “Although he is a former welfare minister, he just threw cold water on the welfare issue.”

Lee said Rhyu’s welfare pledges when he ran unsuccessfully for Gyeonggi governor last June were not much different from those of the DP. “Is he saying that his pledges are feasible, while similar promises by others are not?” Lee asked.

Other Democrats also said Rhyu’s criticism was not about policy but for his own political gain. “He is attacking the main opposition party’s policy to soften his image as a hard-line progressive,” said a DP lawmaker. “He is trying to redefine his image as pragmatic and reasonable before the voters.”

Another DP official said escalating the fight will only strengthen Rhyu’s political standing. “Ignoring him can be a good option,” he said.

For the Democratic Party, an alliance with Rhyu’s People’s Participation Party to unite liberal voters ahead of April by-elections is crucial. Lee, the DP’s spokesman, said, “Rhyu’s criticism, not the DP’s promises, is the catchphrase for the by-elections.”

Rhyu appeared to have no intention to end his criticism. In a radio interview yesterday, he urged the opposition party to be more responsible and practical in its welfare pledges.

“When the DP was the Uri Party and the ruling party, it was hesitant about welfare policies,” Rhyu said. “At the time, they disagreed with then-President Roh’s welfare policies. But now, they’ve reversed their attitude and promote unfeasible promises. So, I was giving heartfelt advice to prevent repercussions.”

In the interview, Rhyu also stressed the need for an electoral alliance among liberal parties for the by-elections. “Consolidation of candidates is necessary for a victory,” he said. “If that’s necessary, I believe we must achieve it.”

Asked if he will run in the presidential election, Rhyu left the possibility open. “The goal is changing the administration and my presidential bid cannot be a goal,” he said. “If I am needed, I will do it. If another candidate can do it better, I can support that. There are many possibilities.”

Known for his strong connection with Roh, Rhyu won his first legislative election in 2003 in a by-election and was reelected in 2004 representing Roh’s Uri Party, which later merged with the Democratic Party. While keeping his legislative post, Rhyu served as Roh’s welfare minister from 2006 to 2007.

In January 2008, he bolted from the DP, arguing that the party’s ideals were far from his idea of liberalism. In the same year, he ran in a legislative election as an independent candidate, but lost to his GNP rival.

After co-founding the People’s Participation Party in 2010, Rhyu lost last year’s Gyeonggi governor race to his GNP opponent, Kim Moon-soo.

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

Related Korean Article[중앙일보]

"노 전 대통령 땐 복지에 반대하더니 민주당, 실현가능성 없는 정책 내놔”
유시민 연일 무상시리즈 때리기 이춘석 “장관 출신이 자기 부정”

국민참여당의 유시민 참여정책연구원장은 15일 “민주당이 열린우리당으로 여당을 하던 시절에 (복지 정책에) 좀 소극적이었다”며 “당시 (여당은) 노무현 대통령이 하려던 복지 정책에 대해 반대하는 입장이었다”고 말했다.

당시 보건복지부 장관을 지낸 그는 이날 라디오 방송에 출연해 “(그랬던 민주당이) 지금은 거꾸로 무상급식, 무상의료, 무상보육을 주장하는 등 실현 가능성을 별로 염두에 두지 않은 쪽으로 확 가고 있다”며 “지난번 집권했을 때와 반대 현상이 일어나면 어쩌나 싶은 마음에서 충고 삼아 (민주당에) 드린 말씀”이라고 했다. 앞서 그는 13일 중앙SUNDAY와의 인터뷰에서 “민주당의 무상 시리즈는 선거용 구호일 뿐”이라고 주장했다가 민주당의 반발을 샀다. 민주당이 ‘정치 공세’라며 자신을 비판한 데 대해 그는 "정책에 대해서는 정책으로 반응해 달라”고 말했다.

 유 원장은 또 “민주당은 국가 권력에 가장 접근해 있는 제1야당이 아니냐”며 “복지 정책을 할 때도 실제 ‘내가 집권했다’고 생각하고 실행 가능성, 실행 방법에 대한 고민까지 함께 하는 게 책임성이 있는 태도”라고 했다. 그러면서 “사회보험은 보완할 필요가 있고, 공적부조 중에서 국민이 원하는 것은 보편적 서비스로 옮겨갈 필요가 있지만 복지 전체를 무상이라는 구호 아래 넣으면 국가의 책임과 개인의 책임 사이에 균형이란 시각이 실종될 우려가 있다”고 지적했다. “국가 역할이 조금 더 필요로 하는 상황에 있다는 점은 공감하지만 보편적 복지다, 선별적 복지다, 무상 복지다 하는 식의 구호만 가지고 논쟁하는 것은 적절치 않다”고도 했다.

 유 원장이 민주당의 무상 복지 정책을 잇따라 비판하고 나서자 민주당도 반격을 가했다. 이춘석 대변인은 “열린우리당 시절에 보건복지부 장관을 지낸 분이 당시의 여당이 복지에 소극적이었다고 비판하는 것은 자기 부정”이라고 말했다. 전현희 원내대변인은 “보건복지부 장관까지 지낸 유 원장이 복지 확대의 필요성을 누구보다 잘 알지 않느냐”며 “비판만 할 게 아니라 정책 대안을 제시하라”고 했다. 당의 한 초선 의원은 “유 원장이 박근혜 전 한나라당 대표의 복지 정책에 대해선 별다른 비판을 하지 않으면서 민주당의 복지 정책만 유독 공격하는 것은 복지 이슈를 선점한 민주당에 대한 공격을 통해 자신을 부각하려는 정치적 의도에서 비롯된 것”이라고 주장했다. 

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