Rhyu disses DP’s welfare pledge
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 [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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