‘Pledge-less’ campaign emerges as alternative
The cancellation of a new airport in the southeastern region has ignited a debate over the veracity of presidential campaign promises.
The project was one of the signature pledges Lee Myung-bak made during his campaign in 2007. Residents of the two rival regions made an angry reaction to the cancellation of the project. They called Lee a liar.
Presidential hopefuls shower voters with whatever pledges each region wants. After winning the election, these sugar-coated promises become a liability.
The airport project is not a one off affair. Lee paid a dear price for having, in vain, sought to scrap a new administrative town project in Chungcheong Province. As a candidate, he vowed to honor the project his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun had initiated.
As president, Lee encountered enormous opposition from residents as he attempted to kill the plan. The dispute weakened his leadership, divided the governing party and squandered national energy before the government decided to keep it intact.
Roh’s commitment for the plan was apparently a bid to woo voters in the central province, and it might have been difficult for Lee as a candidate to oppose the project as he was eager to win the election.
In hindsight, Lee’s iconic 747 project has also proven to be an empty slogan now. He vowed to introduce 7 percent growth, a $40,000 per capita national income and make the country the world’s 7th economic power. The President also faces further embarrassment as he must decide where ― or even whether ― to build a mammoth science town, another of his campaign commitments.
There are two ways to discourage candidates from making unrealizable campaign pledges public. The first is for NGOs to launch a movement to scrutinize the pledges of each candidate. NGOs should prod presidential hopefuls to sign a gentleman’s agreement not to employ NIMBY (Not-in-My-Backyard) and PIMFY (Please-in-My-Frontyard) pledges. This pressure may not be enough.
Voters should be smart enough to filter out hollow sloganeers. Candidates should sketch out their governing philosophies and refrain from outlining money-guzzling projects.
Reversing campaign commitments is not the only problem for the incumbent head of state. The incumbent tries to scrap whatever policies and projects his predecessor made. This “anything-but-predecessor” policy is an enormous drain on government coffers.
For example, the state-controlled Korea Land and Housing Corp. (LH) is in financial trouble because it had to kill the “Innovation City’’ project promises Roh had made. LH spent a massive amount of money to buy land for the project that is now suspended.
There are national projects that should continue regardless of change in government. Policy confusion comes due to turnarounds under different administrations.
It is impossible for candidates to run for elections without pledges; but what runners should bear in mind is that they must be careful in wooing voters with pork-barrel projects.
Such projects have a boomerang effect once the candidate occupies Cheong Wa Dae. Candidates usually sell projects for votes, but the head of state decides policies for the single cause of national interest. Ways must be sought to preclude this dilemma.