Parties woo soldiers by promising higher pay

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Parties woo soldiers by promising higher pay

Ahead of the April general election, ruling and opposition parties are going after the votes of 460,000 soldiers, youngsters who will be drafted in the future and their families by promising higher salaries for men in uniform.

Representative Nam Kyung-pil, a reformist lawmaker of the conservative ruling Saenuri Party, yesterday held a press conference and urged the party’s emergency leadership to make a promise to increase the soldier’s monthly pay to 500,000 won ($448).

“As of now, the average monthly salary of a solider is about 93,800 won,” Nam said. “It should be increased to 500,000 won. I want the emergency council to consider it seriously and realize it.”

Calling the current pay unrealistic, Nam said soldiers will be able to re-enter society after their duties are complete on a more sound footing if the change is made.

“Our youngsters who complete military duty will have about 10 million won each,” Nam said. “It can be used to pay for tuition or as seed money to open a company.”

Nam said the change will cost up to 2.2 trillion won, and the money can be raised by reprioritizing policies and reforming the military.

As the party’s pledge development team reviews a plan to increase soldiers’ pay, the Saenuri Party will likely promise an increase.

The Democratic United Party announced a similar plan last week. It announced that each soldier would receive a monthly deposit of up to 300,000 won in addition to the current salary, and the sum could be withdrawn when they completed their service.

A soldier who completes his 21 months of service would have 6.3 million won accumulated at the end of his duty, the party said.

The Unified Progressive Party said it wants to introduce a minimum standard for soldiers’ salaries to guarantee that a soldier will receive at least 50 percent of the minimum standard of living by 2014 and 100 percent by 2024.

The ruling and opposition parties’ moves to go after the soldiers’ votes are indications of the strengthened influence of the younger vote. Absentee voting turnout for soldiers is about 90 percent, and their votes can play a significant role in a close match.

Korea pays soldiers far less than other countries that operate a conscription system, and the Ministry of National Defense admitted to the need for an increase. In Taiwan, the monthly salary of a corporal is more than 390,000 won, and Israel pays about 200,000 won. In the voluntary service of the United States, a corporal with less than two years of experience receives a monthly salary of more than 2.12 million won.

Increasing the salaries of conscripted soldiers will likely prompt payment raises for commissioned and noncommissioned officers.

The defense budget, earmarked at 33 trillion won this year, is a thorny issue, and Shin In-kyun, a military expert who heads the civic group Korea Defence Network, said the money allocated for procurement projects must not be touched. “Taking into account the reality that we are still at war with the North, we must not reduce the budget to buy arms,” he said, stressing that an additional budget should be allocated.

Meanwhile, the Saenuri Party has finalized its key pledges for the April legislative elections. Representative Na Seong-lin, deputy chief policy maker, said Saturday the party’s five major pledges will focus on employment, education, housing, child care and life after retirement.

The party’s pledges, nicknamed “5 plus 5,” are aimed at competing against the liberal opposition Democratic United Party’s “3 plus 3” pledges focused on free school lunches, medical care and child care, efforts to lower tuitions and housing costs, and to create jobs.


By Ser Myo-ja, Kim Jung-ha [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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