Populism in full swing

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Populism in full swing

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and main opposition United Future Party (UFP) are competing to present their own emergency relief programs for the coronavirus crisis to voters ahead of the April 15 parliamentary elections. In a meeting Monday to spiff up the DP’s campaign strategy in Busan, Chairman Lee Hae-chan underscored the “importance of the government protecting the people in times of crisis.” His remarks suggested an expansion of the DP’s relief program targeting the bottom 70 percent income group to all families in Korea.

His statement came a day after UFP Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn came up with the idea of offering 500,000 won ($410) to every citizen, and Justice Party Chairwoman Sim Sang-jeong raised the amount to 1 million won. Just a few days ago, the DP decided to offer up to 1 million won in emergency relief to each family in the bottom 70 percent group. Then all of a sudden, the ruling party encourages an expansion of the relief fund regardless of the state of state coffers in an obvious bid to curry favor with voters ahead of the legislative elections.

The DP changed course after controversy arose over the criteria for the financial support for the lower income group. Such a dramatic shift in position reflects the ruling party’s sheer ignorance of fiscal integrity.

The same applies to the main opposition. UFP Chairman Hwang denounced the Moon Jae-in administration and the DP for “trying to win votes by handing out cash to the people ahead of the election.” But he wants to offer 500,000 won to every citizen regardless of their wealth. Despite the controversy over the Moon administration doling out the cash selectively, Hwang cannot avoid criticism for trying to win votes in the election.

After the coronavirus crisis turned into the only issue being discussed, voters are increasingly puzzled over whom to vote for. Voters are not even aware of candidates’ platforms because of a critical lack of rallies over fear of infection and the sudden establishment of satellite parties of the two major parties to win more proportional representation seats in the National Assembly. In such circumstances, both the ruling and opposition parties are determined to spend taxpayers’ money indiscriminately. How is that different from the campaigns of our authoritarian governments in the past?

Dark clouds are rapidly gathering over our economy after the global supply chain has collapsed because of the virus outbreak. Responsible parties must prepare contingency plans for a post-coronavirus world. In times of crisis, voters must not be fooled by populist promises. Only eight days are left until the election.
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