Learn from Japan’s lessonsDuring a policy promotion tour around the southern region of Japan on Saturday, the ruling Democratic Party of Japan admitted that it was arrogant and immature to think that it could do anything upon gaining power without a deep understanding of the realities of governance.
The party was referring to its ambitious social welfare promises that led to its leap to power in the general elections in August 2009. At the meeting in Fukuoka, party head and Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said that he regretted failing to honor campaign pledges and vowed to come up with feasible and realistic policies in the future.
In the 2009 election, the left-leaning Democratic Party promised to eliminate highway tolls, offer child care subsidies, cut gasoline taxes and provide monthly minimum pensions that would cost as much as an additional 16.8 trillion yen ($212 billion), and replace the long-dominant conservative government.
But it had to shelve many of its key pledges due to a lack of funding. Instead, it had to acknowledge its mistakes and is now seeking public understanding and support in order to raise sales taxes to cover deficits.
This scene is not unfamiliar to those following the Korean presidential campaign. Candidates Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party, Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party and independent contender Ahn Cheol-soo are all pumping out populist promises, such as sharp cuts in university tuition fees and medical costs. These social welfare plans cannot be achieved without first raising revenues through taxes and public health insurance rates.
Deplorably, however, all the presidential hopefuls fail to do their math. Hasty campaign promises can no doubt exact financial disaster. Japan knows this all too well. Its public debt reached an astronomical figure of 983.3 trillion yen as of September as a result of years of populist competitions among politicians. International rating agencies have been cutting Japan’s sovereign credit ratings, citing its colossal amount of debt.
Presidential candidates should take a long look at their campaign platforms and study the necessity, feasibility and productivity of pledges before they trot them out to the public. If they seem like they may lead to the public’s demand for an apology during the upcoming term, they are better off being chucked away now.
Voters must also scrutinize the platforms so that they do not choose a candidate who cannot later answer for his or her campaign promises.