Voters should look out for impractical promises
After former President Park Geun-hye was prematurely removed from office, the nation will go to polls on May 9 to elect a new president.
Because the next presidential election will be held only 60 days after the day Park was officially dismissed by the Constitutional Court, concerns are rising that presidential contenders will not have enough time to prepare proper electoral platforms.
The sudden election also leaves little time for voters to get to know the contenders and decide who has the best remedy for the economy, national security, diplomacy and the people's livelihoods.
With voting day fast approaching, it is worrisome to see some presidential hopefuls pouring out populist pledges. The Democratic Party of Korea's Moon Jae-in announced his plans to deal with the mounting household debt last week by lowering the ceiling of interest rates and other measures. The announcement came as Korea's outstanding household credit soared to 1,344 trillion won ($1.18 trillion) in the final quarter of 2016, up 11.7 percent from a year earlier.
To reduce interest payments on low-income borrowers, Moon pledged to limit the maximum interest rate on loans to 20 percent, down from the existing ceiling of 25 percent. He vowed to establish financial instruments to provide loans with 10-percent-level interest for the low-income bracket. He also promised to ensure that the ratio of household debt to disposable income will not be higher than 150 percent.
Moon' plans seemed to fall short of providing fundamental solutions to the household debt crisis. Rather than making unrealistic pledges to reduce debt, it is more important to focus on creating more jobs and increasing household incomes to improve people's capabilities to repay debts.
South Chungcheong Province Governor An Hee-jung of the Democratic Party of Korea, who has been the second-most-popular contender after Moon in approval ratings, has also been criticized for making populist pledges. An vowed to introduce a national sabbatical program during a press conference last week at the National Assembly. The program would allow workers to take one year off after working 10 years. This kind of program would not be applicable in many Korean workplaces due to the rigid corporate culture.
Seongnam Mayor Lee Jae-myung vowed to turn 600,000 temporary positions in the public sector into regular positions, but did not give a convincing explanation about how this can be achieved. Other candidates have also promised to introduce unrealistic polices like volunteer military service and basic income.
Presidential candidates must stop making irresponsible commitments. Welfare pledges from the last presidential election have already caused much social conflict and increased national debt. Voters should be wary of candidates who only have quick vote-getting schemes rather than a long-term vision to drive the nation forward.