Hands off the budget

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Hands off the budget

The December presidential election is affecting next year’s budget review at the National Assembly. The ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Democratic United Party are wrestling to secure money to back up their own candidates’ campaign promises. Some lawmakers have even insisted that an extraordinary budget bill be appropriated to fund the next president’s campaign promises. That’s nothing but a sly tactic to help their candidates’ bids in the election.

Political parties’ efforts to wield influence in the executive branch’s budget planning are understandable. But it is a totally different story if they attempt to obtain an extra budget for a particular presidential candidate in the middle of an ongoing campaign. Here’s why: If the government budget turns into a tool for an election victory, it will most likely lead to an over-the-top distortion of budget allocations as it is aimed solely at fulfilling candidates’ populist agendas. Moreover, it is an outright insult to voters’ right to choose their president to demand that next year’s budget should also cover a particular candidate’s campaign pledges.

It is even more preposterous for legislators to call for a separate budget for the next president without even specifying the purpose of such a budget. Choi Jae-sung, a third-term lawmaker from the DUP, went so far as to contend that a maximum of 4 trillion won ($3.67 billion), amounting to about 1 percent of the government’s budget next year of 342 trillion won, should be reserved for the next president during budget deliberations in the Assembly. That amounts to an outright dismissal of the law on the budget.

One of the fundamental reasons for such an aberrant argument comes from the mismatch of presidential and parliamentary terms: A new president’s first year budget is determined by the Assembly in December before he or she takes office in February. But that has not posed a very big problem in the past. If the ruling party becomes a minority in the Assembly after the presidential election, the budget naturally is not what the president would have wanted. On the other hand, if the ruling party maintains its majority after the presidential election, the president can keep his or her promises by passing a supplementary budget through the Assembly. Therefore, it brazenly exceeds legislators’ authority if they try to interfere with a normal budget deliberation in order to give advantages to their candidates.

We strongly urge lawmakers to immediately stop any attempts to put pressure on the budget deliberations.
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