The people’s happinessThe main focus of the new 19th National Assembly is the presidential election. So, the opening speech by the Saenuri Party floor leader, Hwang Woo-yea, could serve as a gauge of the ruling party’s presidential election campaign. Defining the “people’s happiness” as the zeitgeist of the December election, Hwang vowed to exert all efforts to expand welfare programs, create more jobs and achieve “economic democratization.”
In the speech, Hwang made a dazzling array of pledges which, if implemented, would have a gigantic impact on the lives of ordinary citizens, women, college students and irregular workers. He said he will focus on a wide range of duties: a customized welfare service for each generation and life cycle; a blanket increase of child-raising allowances for all income brackets; lowering college tuitions to ease parents’ economic pain; a tailor-made employment system for college graduates; and less working hours for pregnant women and their spouses. The floor leader of the ruling party also called for government legislation to abolish heavy taxation for owners of multiple homes to stimulate the depressed economy, not to mention a strong demand for the government to prepare a supplementary budget.
No doubt the economic environment has changed a lot compared to 2007, when the last presidential election was held, as seen by the bigger role welfare, jobs and women play now. As the newly coined term “global anger” suggests, economic hardship became a common denominator of struggling ordinary citizens across the globe. In Korea, in particular, the anger sharply rose due to overheated competition in education and housing, which drove infuriated voters in their 20s, 30s and 40s to rush to voting booths since the 2010 local elections.
In presidential elections, however, candidates should not threaten the health of the society and the government’s fiscal health. But worries about the ramifications of their populist campaign platforms are rapidly mounting. The Lee Myung-bak administration came up with a gloomy analysis: the Saenuri Party would need 165 trillion won ($145 billion), and the main opposition Democratic United Party 75 trillion won, if they want to keep their promises. But nobody knows how they can secure the humongous budget and if it is still acceptable to use the money for such purposes. Both parties must present voters with concrete ways to fill the government coffers.
Voters, too, should make decisions based on the feasibility of their promises. Only then can they protect their future.