Another debate, more liesA debate is all about facts and truth. In the two televised debates among the three top presidential candidates - Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party, Moon Jae-in of the opposition Democratic United Party and Lee Jung-hee of the splinter Unified Progressive Party - a productive debate was impossible since one candidate was intent on telling lies from the start. Lee said Korea’s minimum wage is the lowest among OECD member nations except Mexico. But that’s not true. A total of eight OECD members, including Portugal, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia and Mexico, have lower minimum wages than Korea. On the other hand, Park’s argument that only New Zealand’s minimum wage is about 50 percent of its average wage was correct.
Lee also made biting remarks about Samsung Chairman Lee Kun-hee and Hyundai-Kia Motor Group Chairman Chung Mong-koo by calling them “thugs above the Constitution.” She said that transforming those chaebol owners into ordinary citizens is what she considers “economic democratization.” That goes far beyond the realm of freedom of speech in a democratic society. Responding to her attacks, even Moon jumped in and said that Lee must acknowledge some positive functions of the chaebol.
On North Korean issues, Lee posted an enemy-friendly message on her blog: “My and my party’s position is to say nothing about Pyongyang’s dynastic power succession. If we should be blamed for that, we will be.”
When Park asked Lee if she will return the 2.6 billion won ($2.4 million) government subsidy for her presidential campaign if she drops out of the race, Lee tried to divert attention from the question by saying, “Don’t you remember that I said I ran in this election to thwart your presidential bid?” But Moon and even Liberal Justice Party Chairman Sim Sang-jeong, Moon’s ally, vowed to return the government subsidy when presidential contenders drop out of the race. If Lee agrees, it could mark a great achievement in the history of Korean politics.
We are appalled at the mean attacks against political rivals. Tens of millions of viewers have watched the debates being run off the rails by a maverick from a splinter party. In an open society, anyone can express what they think. But they must first respect other candidates’ integrity if they want an effective debate. Instigation and sophistry based on lies do not constitute a debate. There should be some limit on the drama a runaway candidate plays in the nation’s critical moment.