Promises, promises

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Promises, promises

The ruling and opposition parties are pouring out new campaign pledges every day ahead of the April parliamentary elections. Parties are responsible, of course, for trotting out new platforms. They provide the rationale for voters to make their choices and help advance the political culture by providing policy competition. But most of the campaign pledges by parties this season are half-baked, unrealistic and potentially controversial. Parties are churning out the pledges without any attempt at proving their feasibility simply to rope in votes.

The opposition Democratic Unity Party, on top of earlier promises to give free school meals, child care and medical services, also pledged to cut college tuition fees in half and subsidize housing and unemployment costs. These are, however, purely rhetorical promises as the party has failed to study the costs needed to finance the plans. Various punitive and restrictive measures on large conglomerates, such as a so-called tax on chaebol and a cross-investment cap on their affiliates, were released without discussion within the party. The party also proposed to supply 5,000 single-room residences for college students and make large companies hire a certain number of young people. Those promises are patently not feasible.

The ruling party has been equally rash in coming up with a bizarre set of promises. It promised to reconsider the project to build a new airport in the south, which was scrapped by the government, and also make high schools free of charge. It also went after votes from the military, promising to hike the monthly allowances for all men doing their compulsory military service to as much as 400,000 won ($357) from the current 90,000. It promised to subsidize small, self-employed businesspeople’s tuition for their children as well as give them and irregular workers priority in state-rented residences. All these pledges were announced without studies and without coordination with the government.

The cascade of half-baked and populist promises can confuse and make voters weary. If the parties go on crying wolf with questionable campaign pledges, voters could further distrust and abhor politics. The promises are released through various routes, making it difficult to assess if they are just ideas or formerly approved policies. The parties must first present a long-term framework for their platforms and policy directions and then announce campaign promises in a restrained and authoritative manner. Otherwise, voters won’t pay attention or bother to compare them.
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