A shameful TV debateThe first of three mandatory TV debates among candidates running for the next presidency televised on Monday evening dealt with the theme of economy. Economy came first in three-themed debates as the incoming government faces a myriad of challenges at home and abroad. The new leadership must restore the devastated self-employed and stimulate growth in decent jobs. It must address the wave of inflation aggravated by the Ukraine crisis. Candidates for the next leadership also should be able to explain how the country can stay competitive amid an intensifying conflict between the U.S. and China.
But it took pain to endure the two-hour run of shameful and tedious wrangling. The skirmish was led largely by the two front-running rivals of the ruling and main opposition parties. Yoon Suk-yeol of the opposition People Power Party (PPP) accused Lee Jae-myung of Democratic Party (DP) of embezzlement through personal use of corporate cards. Lee pulled up a panel with the gist of a phone conversation involving Kim Man-bae — a major shareholder of the asset management company at the center of the Daejang-dong development scandal — in which a stakeholder says, “Yoon would die if we are arrested!” Lee implored Yoon to resign if the accusation is found to be false.
The Daejang-dong scandal must be investigated, but the TV debate should not have wasted the valuable time for voters to hear the visions from president-aspirants on improving livelihood and economy. Yet the two went on with childish wrangling. “Are you usually so stubborn?” or “You have the bad habit of accusing without grounds.”
At the beginning, the four had started off relatively calmly and were in one voice on the need to compensate small merchants whose business had been devastated by the Covid-19 outbreak and social distancing measures. But none described the means of financing. They also merely recited the promises on the platform booklet on measures to enhance future competitiveness of the country. After being attacked for an excessive stretch in debt issuance to finance spending, Lee said the Korean won could become a reserve currency. He only drew sneers for his inability to differentiate between reserve currency and special drawing rights. Yoon promised to promote a digital, data economy, but fell short of explaining details. Hot issues like real estate policy and pension reform did not get much mention.
The candidates must address the next two TV debates differently. They must keep to the rules by giving the other party enough time to respond. Even during wrangling, they must hold up civility. The next theme on Friday is politics. They must discuss how politics of conflict could be replaced by cooperation. At the final debate on March 2 on social issues, they must provide solutions to gender conflict and balanced development outside the capital.