The National Assembly has resumed its long-stalled deliberation on next year’s budget but rival parties remained at odds over the detailed allocation.
The new main opposition Democratic Unified Party set out to cut back on the defense budget, especially on the Jeju Gangjeong naval base which involved several government-resident conflicts earlier this year. It claimed that the corresponding amount should be converted to welfare projects.
The ruling Grand National Party, however, argued that the government should ready itself for possible political and military changes resulting from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s death, thus placing prioritizing the defense budget.
|Rep. Won Hye-young (left), co-chairman of the Democratic Unified Party, pays a courtesy call to Rep. Park Geun-hye, who heads the ruling Grand National Party’s emergency leadership council, on Wednesday. (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)|
In the parliamentary budget committee meeting on Wednesday, DUP members demanded that 132.7 billion won ($115.7 million) be subtracted from the Jeju naval base construction budget, according to officials.
They also made moves to cut down on the Defense Ministry’s budget for the purchase of new fighter planes or maintenance of old ones.
Left-wing lawmakers claimed that the saved amount should be spent on expanding welfare plans including college tuition cut or free school meals.
Though the conservative camp also came to adopt welfare as a key issue in order to win an upper hand in next year’s political races, it showed reluctance to sacrifice the defense budget amid the rising inter-Korean tension.
“The current budget bill fails to reflect emergency scenarios,” said Rep. Gu Sang-chan of the GNP.
“Military budgets are to be increased in order for the military to respond to possible wartime operation control situations.”
Gu, a close aide to the party’s emergency leadership council leader Rep. Park Geun-hye, is regarded as representing Park’s view over the issue.
The GNP, after a series of electoral defeats this year, came to tone down its former conservative stance and adopt welfare as a key issue.
However, upon Kim’s death, it once again took national security, a traditional right-wing value, as its top-ranking doctrine.
The committee is to review the government’s budget bill by next Wednesday and put the adjusted bill on a vote, before passing it onto the parliament’s general provisional session on Friday.
By Bae Hyun-jung (firstname.lastname@example.org)