As key presidential candidates competitively promise pandemic relief funds to win over voters, the government is saying the pledges are unfeasible. Other candidates accuse them of populism and of trying to buy support.
The ruling Democratic Party presidential candidate, Lee Jae-myung, is seeking to provide additional national disaster support funds to overcome the difficulties caused by the pandemic. His contender Yoon Seok-youl of the main opposition People Power Party has a plan to invest 50 trillion won ($42 billion) to help self-employed people.
Lee ignited the cash aid race.
On Oct. 29, Lee vowed to push for additional national disaster aid. Two days later he specified how much he would provide to each household, saying, “In the face of COVID-19, at least 300,000 won to 500,000 won should be paid.”
Although Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum opposed the promise because of the cost, Lee has repeatedly pressured authorities, saying the national budget is always insufficient and that there will be adequate financial resources from a tax surplus.
In line with Lee’s statements, the Democratic Party officially announced on Tuesday that it would push ahead with the provision of additional disaster support funds and establish a new national quarantine support fund for “living with the coronavirus.” The party said 200,000 won to 250,000 won per person is likely to be paid in January.
As for Yoon Seok-youl, he said the government should compensate owners in full for the damage caused by the government’s restrictions on business hours. “We will spend 50 trillion won to compensate for all damage to self-employed people.”
Yoon said, “We will index damage by region and industry within 100 days and grade it according to business restrictions,” and will push hard for financial support such as loans and subsidies for rent and utility bills.
Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki opposed both plans, saying “it is difficult.”
Hong attended the National Assembly on Tuesday, saying, “There may not be a supplementary budget this year (for the additional disaster funds) and it will be difficult in many ways.”
Regarding Yoon’s remarks about the 50 trillion won plan, he said, “(If it is carried out) most of them have to be paid through deficit government bonds, so it will not be easy financially.”
Other candidates, including former Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Kim Dong-yeon and People’s Party leader Ahn Cheol-soo, criticized Lee and Yoon, calling them populists.
Ahn assailed Lee and Yoon’s pledges as “populist gambling.”
He said, “With national debt as the stakes, established candidates from both parties have begun a war of money. … In the end, no matter which of the two wins, they seem to exploit the future of young people.”
Kim also said, “Lee is populist and Yoon does not understand the financial mechanism at all.”
Kim Woo-chul, a professor at the University of Seoul, said, “With the national finance already running a deficit of 6 percent of GDP in succession last year and this year, the talk of disaster support funds for the entire nation is bound to be criticized.
“(For Yoon’s push) compensation (for self-employed businesspeople) should indeed be prepared firmly, but 50 trillion won does not seem to be an accurate estimate. It needs to be further refined.”
By Shin Ji-hye (email@example.com