SEOUL, Oct. 14 (Yonhap) -- Independent presidential candidate Ahn Cheol-soo on Sunday announced a set of economic reform plans aimed at providing equal opportunities to small and large companies, ensuring fair business practices and protecting the underdogs.
His pledge came as all three major presidential candidates, including Park Geun-hye of the conservative ruling party and Moon Jae-in of the liberal main opposition party, are trying to woo voters with promises to end the economic dominance of conglomerates under the popular slogan "economic democratization."
Conglomerates, known as "chaebol" in South Korea, have been credited with driving the country's economic growth in recent decades by spearheading exports, but critics accuse them of hurting smaller companies and widening income gaps through their market domination and concentration of wealth.
"Economic democratization is a constitutional value the president must defend," Ahn told a press conference at his election camp's headquarters in Seoul.
In a seven-point plan for economic democratization, he chose chaebol reform, financial reform, an innovative economy and labor reform as some of the areas he would focus on.
"I will push for chaebol reform measures such as strict law enforcement against heads of conglomerates involved in illicit wealth transfers (to their children), and then check that chaebol's illegal activities are under control through the chaebol reform committee," Ahn said.
The 50-year-old founder of South Korea's largest anti-virus software firm, AhnLab, said Friday he would launch a government committee to oversee the reform of conglomerates if elected in December's presidential polls.
If the initial measures against illicit chaebol practices don't succeed, Ahn said he would consider stronger structural reforms such as a separation of affiliates from their parent company.
"There is no future in an old economy in which riches are accumulated through special privileges and foul play, and opportunities are taken away," he said.
The former college professor also pledged heavier taxation against the chaebol practice of assigning projects to their affiliates and stricter restrictions against entering small local markets.
In addition to economic reforms, political reforms have been another cornerstone of Ahn's campaign.
Without political reform within the main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP), the liberal independent has said he cannot join the party or merge bids with Moon.
Speculation is rife the two candidates will unify their candidacies ahead of December's election to boost their chances against Park of the ruling Saenuri Party.
On Thursday, Cho Kuk, a law professor at Seoul National University, proposed the two liberals create a joint political reforms committee to discuss ways to push for reform together.
Moon, the 59-year-old human rights lawyer-turned-politician, has accepted the proposal, his election camp spokesman, Jin Sung-joon, said, indicating the ball is now in Ahn's court.
"Moon believes a merger of candidacies with Ahn is absolutely necessary for a change in government and political reform," Jin said during a press briefing at the DUP headquarters in Seoul.
"Moon thinks Professor Cho's recent three-step proposal is very reasonable and realistic, and accepts it," he said, adding the committee could be chaired by Cho.
In his three-step proposal for unifying candidacies, Cho also suggested the two liberals establish a joint policy platform and negotiate a division of power.
Asked about his opinion on Moon's recent calls for Ahn to join the DUP and unify candidacies, the former software entrepreneur told reporters his position was unchanged.
"I have said this many times, (but) I would like (the opposition) to carefully consider what the truly important goal is."
Commenting on the proposal for a joint political reform committee, he said, "I have nothing to add."
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