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[Editorial] Lee’s true colors

Candidate steps back from land tax pledge; DP disciplines member for criticizing his policy

Lee Jae-myung, presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, said in an interview with local media Monday that he would not seek to create a land ownership tax if the people oppose it.

Lee has vowed to tax owners up to 1 percent of the value of their land, and spend the tax revenue on funding basic income that he pledged to distribute to everyone.

But on Nov. 15, he posted on Facebook that those who oppose the tax for fear of suffering a loss even though they are not in the nation’s top 10 percent (in terms of land ownership) are foolishly playing into the hands of the malevolent press and corrupt political influence.

The post triggered criticism that his divisive leadership pits 90 percent of people against the remaining 10 percent.

The proposed tax has prompted pushback from the people. A Realmeter poll for YTN found that 55.0 percent view the tax as inappropriate, with 36.4 percent regarding it as appropriate.

Earlier, he gave up on his persistent push to offer pandemic relief to the whole nation, apparently for the same reason, after a survey for TBS found 60.1 percent opposed the relief. Up until a day before Lee revoked his demand for the universal pandemic relief, the party’s floor leader had put pressure on the Ministry of Economy and Finance to draw up related budget, mentioning a parliamentary inspection.

In October, he proposed a “restaurant quota” that would limit the total number of restaurants in certain areas and a “four-day workweek” but later, with criticism mounting, he dismissed them as mere ideas.

In another interview a few days ago, Lee revealed his idea of securing funds for basic income through a carbon tax. He called the carbon tax more “realistic” than land tax.

He says he prioritizes the economy and people’s livelihoods, but his carbon tax pledge will certainly impose a heavy burden mostly on businesses and the economy. His pledges do not add up.

As for basic income, particularly for young people, Lee promised to listen to opposition parties, government officials and members of the public before coming up with specific plans.

But his party’s actions belie his words. It suspended the party membership of Lee Sang-yi, a Jeju National University professor, for eight months for criticizing basic income during the race to elect its presidential candidate. Lee’s basic income policy and his alleged involvement in the Daejang-dong land development scandal are said to be frequent topics within the party. Nevertheless, the professor was severely disciplined. This inevitably comes across as reflecting a totalitarian mindset that does not tolerate any opinions critical of Lee.

The party on Wednesday closed its bulletin board used only by those who pay membership fees. The party cited the need to prevent discussion from overheating, but the step seems to have been taken to block criticisms of Lee on the board.

Lee tries to look flexible by promising to listen to many people, while the party tries to turn a deaf ear to criticism. They are acting on a double standard.

Lee vowed on Nov. 23 to make laws within the year to introduce the system of worker representation on boards of directors in the public sector. Board-level employee representation is criticized by businesses because it can hamper speedy decision making. The following day he remarked in a forum to the effect that controls and regulations on businesses must be removed to the hilt. When he meets with businesspeople, he promises to abolish regulations. When he meets with labor groups, he says the opposite. What are his true colors?

Politicians may change their minds about poorly received policies. The problem is that it is unclear if a candidate has really given up on an idea, or just temporarily backed away from it. Lee must discard populism and be consistent on his pledges, or he must at least give good reasons for changing course.

By Korea Herald (khnews@heraldcorp.com)
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