Checking on campaign pledges

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Checking on campaign pledges

Nine out of 10 Koreans doubt the ambitious welfare pledges being made by candidates and political parties will ever see the light of day after tomorrow’s legislative elections according to a survey that seems to highlight how voters are more insightful and savvy than most of today’s politicians.

A survey the Hyundai Economic Research Institute conducted on 1,007 people showed that 60 percent of respondents believe the candidates may try to keep their promises but are unlikely to end up fulfilling them, while another 31 percent brushed aside the pledges as campaign rhetoric.

Meanwhile, 74 percent described as “impossible” a plan to fund extravagant new welfare programs without raising taxes or piling up new debt simply by rationalizing the fiscal budget.

The National Election Commission recently urged the Ministry of Strategy and Finance not to further stoke tensions after the latter issued a statement estimating the hefty cost of the ruling and main opposition parties’ combined welfare promises. The opposition Democratic United Party, which felt the attack was largely aimed at its universal welfare policies, responded to the statement by demanding that Minister of Strategy and Finance Bahk Jae-wan resign for surrendering his neutrality vis-a-vis the elections.

Bahk may have exceeded his mandate by reading the ministry’s findings out in person. However, the move led the election watchdog to recognize that there is a need for the government office in charge of public finance to study the financial repercussions of such campaign pledges.

But the commission pointed out that the data and material should have been provided to academics, civilian organizations and the press for citation rather than being announced directly by the finance minister. But if political scientists, scholars, civilian watchdogs and the media had first scrutinized the campaign pledges - as they should have - the ministry need not have shouldered the burden.

The economy appears to be picking up speed, but consumer sentiment remains depressed and the nation’s political parties continue to pour out half-baked populist ideas and promises to appeal to welfare sentiment.

Although the elections are important, they are no more so than the financial state of the nation. As such, while we note the need for greater discretion on the part of the finance ministry, it must continue to study and contain welfare populism to keep campaign promises in check.

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