[Column] Opposition for opposition’s sake

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[Column] Opposition for opposition’s sake

Kim Dong-ho
The author is the editor of economic news for the JoongAng Ilbo.

I have a question. What kind of verdict will the voters deliver to the Democratic Party (DP) in the next parliamentary elections, which are less than 15 months away? Elated by its super-majority — 169 seats in the 300-member legislature — the liberal party has put the brakes on nearly all policy decisions made by the conservative Yoon Suk Yeol administration over the past eight months.

Judgment day will arrive on April 10, 2024. If 44 million voters believe the majority party’s blind opposition to government policies will help the country, the DP will win the next general election. But if a majority of the voters think otherwise, the liberal party will lose many of the 169 seats it used to block any policies of the Yoon administration.

The conservative government’s flagship policies nearly came to a halt as of December. Despite its determination, no progress has been made on labor, education or pension reforms. Out of its 12 major national agenda items, only three could pass the National Assembly with cooperation from the DP. One was a revision to the Comprehensive Property Ownership Tax to help alleviate the heavy tax burden on owners of multiple homes. The DP had to agree to the revision, as it could not ignore ominous signs of a hard landing of the real estate market or dismiss deepening financial pains of the youth from their investments in apartments.

Another bill the DP flexed its muscles on is related to our semiconductor industry — more specifically, a special act on measures to strengthen and protect the nation’s strategic industries. But the DP blocked a move aimed at reinforcing our competitiveness. It pulled down the governing People Power Party (PPP)-proposed tax credit rate of 25 percent for investments in chip-making facilities to 10 percent, citing “overly generous tax benefits” for large companies. Lacking a farsighted vision on semiconductors, bureaucrats in the Ministry of Economy and Finance took a step further. The ministry even lowered the DP-proposed 10 percent tax credit to eight percent for fear of a reduction in tax revenues. Watching the farcical developments in the legislature and government, President Yoon immediately ordered a reconsideration of the eight percent tax credit to raise it to 15 percent. But it remains to be seen if the DP will veto the PPP’s revision.

All the bills the DP has put on hold are urgent. A revision to the National Finance Act should be passed as soon as possible because the nation’s debt already surpassed 1,000 trillion won ($805.2 billion) as a result of the Moon administration’s profligate spending over five years. If there is no cap on government spending, it can lead to a fiscal crisis, as seen in Greece. Even Japan has trouble managing its economy due to its snowballing national debt.

The DP is also blocking a flexible application of the rigid 52-hour workweek legislation adopted by the Moon administration. After the implementation of the uniform 52-hour workweek, small-and mid-sized companies are suffering from a critical lack of workers at a time they really need them, while workers complain about their reduced incomes from the limit on their working hours.

A bill to allow redevelopment of aging New Towns is also on hold due to DP opposition. If those new cities are renovated, it can create jobs, increase housing supplies, and help stabilize our real estate market.

The list goes on. A special act on supporting start-ups needs to be passed quickly, but it is stuck in the legislature. An opposition party held a majority in the National Assembly in the past, too. But the opposition stopped short of prompting a political battle by taking government policies hostage. As the move backfired, President Yoon’s approval rating is ascending to 40 percent and over. But the president is not in a position to be complacent about the rebound in popularity as it resulted from the DP’s blind opposition to government policy, not from his own strengths.

What will the end of the dinosaur party’s methodical opposition to whatever polices of the Yoon administration look like? Judgment day falls on April 10 next year. To prepare for the parliamentary elections, the DP must make clear its stance: whether to keep criticizing government policies steadfastly or present better policies than the government. Another critical factor for the voters to deliver their final verdict on election day will be the DP’s shameful voting down of a request for an arrest warrant for its boss Lee Jae-myung despite a plethora of allegations against him only to safeguard him.
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