With candidate registrations for the June 4 elections completed Friday, the ruling Saenuri Party and the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy are shifting into campaign mode.
The 13-day official campaign period starts May 22, but candidates are stumping around their districts, putting forward sugar-coated election pledges to woo voters.
The common theme in their promises is safety. Given the trauma of the Sewol ferry disaster, it is only natural for candidates to make safety a top priority.
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, who is seeking reelection as the NPAD candidate, promised to invest 2 trillion won ($1.95 billion) in safety programs, including the replacement of aging subway cars.
Chung Mong-joon, Park’s rival from the Saenuri Party, also pledged to earmark 1 trillion won to replace battered subway cars and outdated monitoring systems.
Increased investment in safety is welcome. But the Sewol ferry fiasco has shown that the key to preventing disasters is enhancing people’s safety awareness. This means the focus should be placed on fostering a safety culture through increased safety education and training. Voters need to bear this point in mind when they hear candidates pitch their safety ideas.
Another major campaign theme is welfare expansion. In fact, the two parties’ 10-point election manifestos are filled with welfare promises.
The ruling party pledged to fully subsidize influenza vaccinations for senior citizens, increase the number of social welfare service workers by 5,000 and cut interest rates on loans to farmers and fishers.
The party’s manifesto carries a price tag of 5.5 trillion won over four years. It suggested the abolition of tax deductions or exemption schemes to finance it.
The NPAD makes more costly promises. It pledged to make patient care services fully funded, first for public hospitals by next year and then for all hospitals across the nation by 2017.
It also promised to add 1,000 state-run child care centers each year, introduce a transit pass allowing passengers to take unlimited trips, and raise the minimum wage for public-sector workers.
Some of the party’s plans smack of populism. For instance, the plan for fully funded patient care services cannot be implemented without raising health insurance fees. But the party did not even offer a ball park estimate for the project, much less a detailed financing plan. Voters should not take populist pledges at face value.