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(News Focus) Park compromises on controversial campaign projects
By Chang Jae-soon
SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- A package of key policies unveiled Thursday by the transition team of incoming President Park Geun-hye show that some of her campaign pledges were scaled back or put on the backburner despite her repeated emphasis that she will honor her campaign promises.

   The expansive package was the final product of the transition committee, which is set to disband on Friday, three days before Park takes office on Feb. 25. It outlined 140 major projects the new government will pursue with high priority in the next five years.

   The projects were basically a fleshed-out version of Park's campaign promises.

   The announcement was watched closely as to whether she would stick to some of her controversial campaign projects exactly as they were promised, such as the expensive project to provide all senior citizens aged 65 or older with a monthly allowance of 200,000 won regardless of their income level.

   That project, to start July of next year, was ultimately modified in a way that calls for providing a monthly allowance of between 40,000 won and 200,000 won, depending on the pensioner's income level, in addition to what the current national pension plan pays.

   Park has been dogged by questions about whether she will be able to implement all of her welfare and other projects promised during her election campaign without raising taxes to cover their enormous price tags.

   Experts have also warned that much more money would be needed than the amount Park's campaign team had originally estimated, leading even some members of Park's ruling Saenuri Party to call for scaling back, delaying or altogether scrapping some of the projects.

   Still, Park has rejected such calls, repeatedly stressing the importance of honoring promises in promoting public trust in her government. Thursday's revision appears to show that she compromised with reality and acknowledged the difficulty in raising the necessary money.

   Healthcare projects were also scaled back.

   Park had originally promised to have the state health insurance cover all costs for treatment for cancer and three other hard-to-cure diseases, but some items, such as the cost for higher-quality treatment, were finally excluded from health insurance coverage.

   Also absent from the final policy package was the term "economic democratization," a key promise of Park's to bring democracy to Asia's fourth-largest economy dominated by family-controlled conglomerates so as to stop them from abusing their power against smaller firms.

   The transition team, however, insisted that specific details of economic democratization were included in its policy plans for state management, though it did not use the term economic democratization itself.

   Her promise to shorten the period of mandatory military service from the present 21 months to 18 months was also revised. The transition team said the project will be pursued in the mid- to long-term, after creating the "conditions for a reduction."

   Critics have warned that such a reduction could leave the armed forces without enough troops at a time of high tension with North Korea. The defense ministry has also cautioned that the issue should be pursued carefully.

   Military officials have said the proposed reduction would leave the armed forces short by an average of 27,000 troops a year until 2030, and hiring noncommissioned officers to make up for the difference would cost the nation 700 billion won (US$662 million) a year.

   Tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula have spiked recently as North Korea conducted a nuclear test earlier this month, just two months after it successfully launched a long-range rocket. The communist nation has also ratcheted up hostile rhetoric against Seoul.

   On Park's vision of a "Korean Peninsula trust process," the transition team stressed that it can only be pursued with the North's cooperation. The process seeks to restore inter-Korean relations through large-scale international economic projects in the North on the condition that the North makes progress in dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

   Park's push for the two Koreas to set up economic liaison offices in their capitals will be reviewed in light of the "conditions," while humanitarian aid for the communist nation will be reviewed separately from the political situation in step with international organizations, it said.

   jschang@yna.co.kr
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