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An ugly rush

Jan 18,2020
A fierce battle is being waged by political parties to win the April 15 parliamentary election after the deadline for public officials to resign from their posts passed. The ruling Democratic Party (DP), in particular, is fueling competition by ordering all its members in the government or public corporations to be “mobilized.” The DP behaves as if its election victory is the only thing that matters.

One third of the DP’s preliminary candidates are former minister-level officials from the central government, secretaries in the Blue House, or heads of public corporations or local governments. This is unprecedented. Kim Kyung-wook, a former vice minister of the Ministry of Land and Infrastructure, stepped down in December — after only seven months in office — despite his responsibility to settle disputes over the introduction of van-hailing service Tada.

As a result of this stampede to the hustings, empty seats are plenty in the public sector. Kim Sung-ju, former chairman of the board of the National Pension Service, resigned 10 months early, and Lee Sang-jik, chairman of the Korea SMEs and Startup Agency, also stepped down to run. They cannot avoid the growing public suspicion that they took their jobs only to run in this election — not to fulfill their original mission.

More baffling is a rush of high-level officials under investigation by the prosecution. For instance, Hwang Un-ha, former head of the Ulsan Metropolitan Police, is running even though he is accused of abusing his power to meddle in the city’s mayoral race following an order from the Blue House. Youn Kun-young, director of the State Affairs Planning and Monitoring Office at the Blue House, is also running. If they are under investigation because of suspicions of their criminal offenses, they must not run.

Another heated battle is being waged on the campaign promise front. The DP came up with the catchphrase “Free use of Wi-Fi for all!” to get votes from the young generation. The splinter opposition Justice Party took that a step further. It pledged to offer 30 million won ($25,900) in cash to all 20-year-olds to help them get a better start in life.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP) presented commitments to stop the government’s plan to phase out nuclear reactors, dismantle an extra law enforcement agency aimed at probing corruption by high government officials, and end the Moon Jae-in administration’s scheme to put a price cap on new apartment offerings — all in a bid to restore a market economy and fundamental values of democracy.

Given its slowed growth, ultralow birthrates and a lack of jobs for the young, Korea is like the frog in a pot of water — with the water temperature rising rapidly. Yet our political parties present flowery campaign pledges. If they are engrossed in populism to snatch an election victory, our economy will be doomed. The decision is up to voters.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 18, Page 30