Moon Jae-in, a lawyer-turned-liberal politician, won South Korea's May 9 presidential election in a landslide. The following are some of his key campaign pledges. -- Ed.
The first liberal to take the presidency in South Korea in a decade, Moon Jae-in vows to take a new initiative in global efforts to denuclearize North Korea.
In an interview with The Korea Herald before his election Tuesday, the then-candidate lamented how Seoul has taken a backseat in a matter of its own survival, vowing to take the initiative.
His pledges on North Korean issues are in essence a “step-by-step, comprehensive approach” that encompasses sanctions and negotiations for denuclearization. It is designed to start with a moratorium on all nuclear activities and then progress to a complete closure of the program that would also be accompanied by an inter-Korean military mechanism and peace treaty.
As part of efforts to lay the groundwork for a peaceful unification, he unveiled an ambitious plan to link the two Koreas’ markets by establishing “economic belts” along the eastern and western coasts through China and Russia.
On defense, Moon is also pushing for the early deployment of the Korea Air and Missile Defense program and the Kill Chain pre-emptive strike system, which are under development and expected to be introduced in the early 2020s. A “strategic command” would also be set up to better fend off the communist state’s nuclear and missile threats.
Another major promise is to take back wartime operational control from the US within his term, which has repeatedly been delayed by past administrations.
Better ties with US, China
Amid controversy over the deployment of the US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system, Moon vowed to empower the National Assembly and strengthen public communications in carrying out major foreign policy initiatives.
With the alliance with the US being the backbone of peninsular defense, he called for extended deterrence to be reinforced, and the two-plus-two strategic dialogue between the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers to be held on a regular basis.
The president-elect has also floated ways to mend ties with China, which have been strained amid its economic retaliation against South Korea over THAAD. They include the launch of a bilateral strategic and economic dialogue, and an increase in exchanges between the two countries’ militaries.
On Japan, he pursues a renegotiation of the December 2015 settlement on the wartime sex slavery dispute, which prompted a stern public and political backlash, in a way that is acceptable to the victims and the people.
Moon is also looking to step up trade diplomacy to help counter the growing global protectionist movement while improving official development assistance and public diplomacy around the world.
Public sector-driven job creation
Moon has put job creation as a top priority in his economic pledges, as the South Korean economy suffers a high youth unemployment rate, long working hours, wage gaps between conglomerates and small firms and discrimination against irregular workers.
He vowed to create 810,000 jobs in the public sector, starting from 12,000 jobs in the civil service in the second half of this year. His camp said Moon planned to create 174,000 civil service positions in national security and public safety, 340,000 in social services and convert 300,000 irregular workers to permanent employees.
“Only 2 percent pass the civil service exam and the other 98 percent fail. I will open that door wider. I will help jobs in the public sector produce more jobs in the private sector,” Moon said during a TV speech on SBS, Sunday.
Moon also pledged to root out dubious connections between chaebol and politics. To make corporate governance of family-owned conglomerates more transparent, he promised to introduce a cumulative voting system that would make it easier for minor shareholders to place candidates of their choice in the boardroom if they join forces.
“I believe that if we cannot reform the chaebol, we cannot seek economic growth,” he said.
In particular, he vowed to push for reform of the top 10 conglomerates toward a clean and transparent management structure. He is against industrial giants engaging in financial businesses and recklessly expanding into sectors better suited to smaller firms.
With Samsung Group Vice Chairman Lee Jae-yong currently jailed and standing trial for corruption, the president has also vowed to end the practice of pardoning convicted business tycoons.
Four-year, double-term presidency
Moon’s blueprint on constitutional revision is to alter the current five-year, single-term presidency to a four-year, double-term one -- and to have the nation vote on the change within next year.
But compared to his election rivals who came up with more radical plans, the liberal front-runner has not been as active in altering the nation’s Constitution.
“It is appropriate that the next presidential election should be held in the year 2022, along with local elections (not the parliamentary election in 2020),” Moon said in April, elucidating his view on a constitutional amendment.
For this, he suggested the legislature should pass a revision bill by early next year so as to hold a national referendum on the revised Constitution with the June local elections.
Moon also gestured at reaching out to the centrist People’s Party and progressive Justice Party in the incoming administration.
As for a more extensive relocation of Seoul’s political and administrative functions to Sejong, Moon said such change should be included in the constitutional revision process, as the decision requires public consensus.
Standing at odds with Moon was his centrist rival Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, who had called for an immediate amendment including the plan to officially promote Sejong as the nation‘s administrative capital.
Moon has vowed to clean up “deep-rooted irregularities accumulated over the past nine years during the Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye administrations.”
As for Park’s corruption scandal, which erupted last year and led to her removal from office in March, Moon said he would set up a special committee to push for the confiscation of illegitimate proceeds earned by the former president and her longtime friend Choi Soon-sil. Both have been jailed and are undergoing criminal trials for corruption.
Concerning Lee Myung-bak, who held the presidency from 2008 to 2013, Moon expressed his willingness to look into irregularities including the four-river refurbishment project, conducted during his administration.
Moon also plans to push to revamp the conventional ownership structure of family-owned conglomerates and take stern action against business leaders’ embezzlement or illegal power transfers to their children.
He added that “anti-corruption activities will be sought in the public sector involving personnel processes of high-ranking government officials.” He vowed to elevate the nation’s competitiveness to that of other developed countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
As part of his promise to share authority with citizens, he pledged to relocate the presidential office to Gwanghwamun in downtown Seoul, with the residential palace remaining in Cheong Wa Dae.
Moon has focused on improving the social safety net by increasing government spending and tackling the low birthrate in the face of an aging population.
To encourage people to get married, he vowed to generate quality jobs and provide state-run accommodation to newlyweds. To curb the financial burden on raising children, he promised to expand state-run day care centers, set up “village schools” to take care of children during the day while their parents are at work, extend parental leave and double the leave pay.
According to the CIA’s World Factbook released in March, the country’s total fertility rate, or the average number of babies that a woman is projected to have during her lifetime, stood at 1.25, the fifth lowest in the world.
Moon also promised financial subsidies for Koreans of all age groups. He vowed to offer monthly subsidies worth 100,000 won ($88) to parents with a child aged up to 5 years old, 300,000 won for up to 8 months to unemployed young people aged 18 to 34 and 300,000 won to the elderly aged 65 or older in the bottom 70 percent of the income bracket.
Moon said he would improve medical care and expand insurance coverage for using hospital facilities. There would be a system in place to take responsibility for dementia patients from diagnosis to treatment, according to his election pledges.
“I will implement a tailored welfare system guaranteeing basic income corresponding to people’s lifecycle,” Moon said during a televised debate on MBC.
Gender, labor and the environment
Calling himself a “feminist president,” Moon vowed to make Korean society safer and more equal for women.
He vowed to enhance the role of the Ministry of Gender Equality, bridge the pay gap in the labor market and increase representation of women in the Cabinet and in state-run companies in phases.
“We need the Gender Ministry to encompass all sectors related to women as the current system is not effective,” he said during a televised debate on MBC.
On labor, Moon, who was endorsed by the nation’s biggest umbrella labor union, vowed to make a labor-friendly society and open discourse through a committee consisting of labor, management and the government under the president.
Moon vowed efforts to reduce working hours, raise the minimum wage to 10,000 won by 2020 and step up monitoring to protect labor rights of marginalized workers such as unskilled young people.
On the environmental front, Moon eyes a bigger governmental role in tackling worsening air quality in South Korea, setting a goal of reducing find dust emissions by 30 percent.
As much of airborne pollutants are believed to come from China, his priority is to hold summit-level meetings with the neighboring country.
He also vows a complete overhaul of the controversial four-river project.
A pet project of the Lee administration, the project has been widely blamed for the deterioration of water quality, and Moon said he would undo the “ill-advised” damming and dredging project and return the rivers to their natural state.
As for energy, Moon has called for a halt on construction of new nuclear power plants and the shutdown of some outdated plants. Instead, he aims to raise the share of renewable energy to account for 20 percent of power production by 2030.
Big government for education
Moon stresses the role of the government in child care and education. His education reform plan is based on the idea of providing fair opportunities for all, and he seeks to reduce household spending on private education by reinforcing public education.
While tuition for elementary and middle school are currently covered by the government, Moon pledged to expand the plan to provide free education for preschool and high school as well.
For school reform, Moon sought to redirect the current academic-oriented education to provide more diversified learning choices for students. Calling it “DIY” education, he pledged to reduce the number of mandatory subjects while increasing electives, and to allow students to choose their subjects of interest. He believes this will give them a chance to delve further into skills that could later lead to their future jobs.
Middle and high school students would also be able to take a semester off, similar to university students.
Moon also plans to simplify college admissions to reflect the students’ school transcripts, grades and test scores. Moon maintains that having too many ways to enter university only increases the burden of providing private education.
Moon’s pledges for the judicial sector feature a drastic overhaul of the state prosecution.
First, his administration plans to establish a new state entity to probe corruption cases of state prosecutors, judges and other senior government officials.
The issue on setting up the special entity has faced tough backlash -- particularly from prosecutors -- during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, which failed to achieve its goal.
“Citizens are well aware that the prosecution cannot be reformed by simply strengthening the internal monitoring of prosecutors,” said a close aide to Moon. “Their irregularities should be cracked down on by a third party, not by themselves.”
The president-elect also said the new government should scale back the monopolistic authority held by the prosecution. He vowed to let the prosecution hand over its ordinary investigative rights to police, instead of continuously securing the authority of indictment.
The prosecution, nonetheless, could carry out supplementary probe rights after initial police investigation according to the case.
For the spy agency, Moon said the National Intelligence Service will be banned from gathering low-key information domestically.
“Instead, the agency’s role will be focused on collecting information on North Korea, overseas countries and anti-terror activities,” he said.
By Korea Herald staff (firstname.lastname@example.org)