With fears mounting over the possibility of Korea’s being engulfed by the global economic downturn, political circles are turning a deaf ear to the warnings.
In an apparent bid to win voters’ hearts in the lead-up to the presidential election in December, the rival parties have focused on measures to tighten restraints on big businesses, adhering to their populist pledges to expand welfare benefits. What is more disappointing and worrisome is the lack of substantive economic discourse by presidential hopefuls from the major parties.
Rep. Park Geun-hye, the leading presidential contender of the conservative ruling Saenuri Party, has been locked in a confrontation with her three main challengers over how to choose the party’s presidential nominee.
The standoff might be related to their political interests, but it is simply out of touch with the public, who are increasingly worried about deteriorating economic conditions and wonder what policy options presidential hopefuls have to shore up the economy.
Presidential contenders of the liberal main opposition Democratic United Party are making a slight shift to emphasizing growth accompanied by enhanced welfare but their policies seem to lack the firm footing they would need in the face of economic storms.
The major parties and their presidential runners are urged to look squarely at the gloomy prospect of the national economy slipping into a long-term slump, working out or adjusting election pledges based on the worst-case scenario.
Government policymakers appear to be at their wit’s end over how to cope with a mass of problems including sluggish growth, declining trade volume, weak consumer spending, plummeting property prices and ballooning household debt.
With its term in office approaching its end, the Lee Myung-bak administration is limited in pushing for measures to get through these difficulties.
These circumstances should ignite heated debates among presidential contenders over proper policies to protect the economy from the fallout of the global economic crisis.
Their suggestions, or more accurately slogans, such as job opportunities given to all who wish to work and growth accompanied by more welfare benefits, are far from tackling the problems facing the economy.
The global economic downturn sparked by the eurozone debt crisis is likely to continue for years. The presidential hopeful that eventually prevails will have to take responsibility for managing the economy through these harsh conditions.
In this sense, it is hard to understand why presidential contenders have not made public their concrete views on key economic issues.
They should try to put forward substantive prescriptions to ensure long-term growth ― which might require people to put up with short-term difficulties ― beyond repeating empty rhetoric that goes nowhere.
It will prove that the more presidential candidates are bound to populist considerations, the gloomier their prospects of achieving their goal.