Kryptonite for populist pledges

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Kryptonite for populist pledges

The National Election Commission has decided to establish a new system that will ideally prevent candidates for office from making preposterous pledges during their campaigns. The NEC will push ahead with legislation that requires candidates to submit a plan with information on how they will fund their campaign promises. The NEC will also set up an independent body that would scrutinize candidates’ submissions and check on an annual basis to see if they have fulfilled their campaign promises after taking office.

It would be best if candidates voluntarily refrained from making populist commitments during election season. But it’s difficult for them to resist the temptation of spouting extravagant pledges once races get tight. If the commission can devise effective measures that can screen irresponsible and dumb pledges, it would help candidates keep their runaway promises at bay.

Since Lee Myung-bak was sworn in three years ago, the country has suffered a tremendous amount of pain and division because of sharp conflicts over massive national projects, such as the construction of a new science belt, Sejong City and a new airport in the southeast. Even now, the country is in chaos over a raft of attractive pledges to reduce college tuition - which Lee vowed to do when he ran for president in 2007.

Making a promise is easy, but many have far-reaching repercussions on the country. It is difficult to expect candidates to exercise restraint. Therefore, we have no other option but to establish an institution that can curb the practice. The NEC should first demand that all candidates hand in concrete plans to finance their promises and let a group of experts filter out wild promises by thoroughly evaluating their feasibility and practicality. If their campaign promises are identified as populist, candidates should withdraw the pledges.

If the NEC wants this to be a success, it should finalize its effort to get this legislation enacted before the general election in April or the presidential election in December 2012, at the latest. It should proceed regardless of how the politicians react.

The NEC should also prepare a more stringent mechanism to punish candidates who violate the new rules. Fines won’t be enough because politicians won’t pay attention if the punishment is too light. In addition, the independent committee charged with scrutinizing candidates’ pledges must not provide any reason for us to suspect unfairness. We hope this initiative will end our national division as soon as possible.
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