Party pledges sound good but ring hollow

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Party pledges sound good but ring hollow

With the April 13 general election around the corner, the ruling and opposition parties are rolling out grandiose campaign pledges, especially in key areas such as employment, but there are already questions as to how feasible these promises really are.

Between the four major parties, candidates have pledged a combined total of 11 million new jobs over the next five years.

The ruling Saenuri Party alone has made pledges that call for the creation of some 5.45 million jobs, while the pledge of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea would amount to a total of 2.7 million jobs. The minor opposition Justice Party pledged 1.98 million jobs, while the People’s Party pledged the creation of 850,000 jobs.

Last year, 337,000 new jobs were created, leaving analysts to question whether such campaign pledges are lacking in substance.

Park Jong-kyu, senior researcher with the Korea Institute of Finance, put it simply: “Politicians’ employment pledges are too extreme, and therefore lack sincerity.”

The Saenuri Party pledged it will provide incentives for companies that went overseas to return home, thus creating 2.5 million jobs in the next five years. It also plans to expand the tourism industry, creating another 1.5 million jobs. Finally, the party estimates it will be able to create 370,000 jobs through labor act reforms and 690,000 jobs in the service industry.

Meanwhile, the People’s Party has pledged that within five years, it will implement a policy incentivizing large conglomerates to hire young people, creating 550,000 jobs for young workers. It also called for the creation of 300,000 jobs for seniors by 2020.

Similarly, the Justice Party is calling for the creation of 245,000 jobs for youths each year, and has pledged to create 100,000 service jobs.

Between the four major parties, there are now thousands of campaign pledges for the upcoming elections, but analysts remain doubtful, particularly since some of these pledges simply mimic current government policy or copy pledges in past elections.

Rep. Kim Jung-hoon, the Saenuri Party’s chief policy maker, claimed that if 10 percent of companies that went overseas returned to Korea, some 500,000 jobs would be created.

But according to 2014 data by the Export-Import Bank of Korea, there are 60,000 Korean companies overseas, and the total number of workers they have locally employed is only 191,000.

“The Saenuri Party’s pledges are hollow, and basically insincere,” said Kim Woo-chul, a professor of taxation at the University of Seoul. “It is difficult to see this as the posture of a ruling party ahead of general elections in a situation where the Korean economy is facing an unprecedented turning point.”

Likewise, the Minjoo Party’s pledge, aimed at winning over older voters, is that they will create 300,000 won ($260) in monthly subsidies for seniors, regardless of income, by 2018. This amount suddenly increased from the 200,000 won, when it was first announced by the party on Feb. 5. If implemented, the initiative would cost the government roughly 6.4 trillion won.

“Arbitrarily raising the subsidy by 1.5 times, without any differentiation on who receives it, is just populism for election purposes by politicians who take no thought of the morrow,” said Yun Seok-myeong, a researcher with the Korea institute for Health and Social Affairs.

In a Gallup Korea poll of 1,000 adults conducted last year between October and December, 70 percent of respondents said they opposed a government increase in welfare benefits if it meant an increase in taxes.

BY KIM TAE-YOON, JANG WON-SEOK [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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