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(News Focus) Absence of economic democratization raises questions on Park's commitment
By Kim Kwang-tae
SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- President-elect Park Geun-hye's incoming government laid out five major agendas on Thursday as she prepares to lead South Korea, but one key policy was conspicuously absent: economic democratization.

   Park had campaigned to bring democracy to the country's economy, which has been dominated by family-controlled conglomerates, known as chaebol. Her campaign promise was mainly designed to stop chaebol from abusing their power and to protect mom-and-pop stores and smaller firms.

   Her signature economic policy initiative has drawn widespread public support, though it sent alarm bells ringing across corporate boardrooms for a possible overhaul of sprawling conglomerates.

   Still, Park's transition team did not include economic democratization in her five major state agendas that called for, among other things, job creation, tailored welfare services and creativity education.

   The incoming government made a job-oriented creative economy the No. 1 priority and said the incoming government is determined to establish a principled market economy.

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

   "The term not being included has nothing to do with (our) commitment toward economic democratization and (our) implementation plan," Yoo Sung-kull, a lawmaker of the ruling Saenuri Party and a member of the transition team, told reporters.

   Kang Seog-hoon, another member of the transition team, also said the incoming government plans to use the terms of a principled market economy and economic democratization, claiming they are interchangeable.

   The comment came four days before Park takes office as the country's first female president.

   The absence of the term prompted concerns among those who championed to rein in the economic dominance of chaebol, which have businesses that span electronics, construction, insurance, clothing and amusement parks as well as food and retail.

   Kim Sang-jo, a professor of economics at Hansung University, described the conspicuous absence of economic democratization as disappointing.

   "The latest development raised questions whether Park's commitment toward economic democratization has been weakened," Kim said, noting Park did not comment on how to draft a series of bills on economic democratization.

   Kim also said nominees to lead Asia's fourth-largest economy have been filled with figures known to be market-friendly.

   Park has named Hyun Oh-seok, the chief of the state-run Korean Development Institute, as the deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs, while nominating Suh Seong-hwan, an economics professor at Seoul's Yonsei University, as the minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs.

   She also tapped former finance ministry technocrat Cho Won-dong to be the economic secretary.

   The nominations fueled speculation that Park could place her priority on economic growth amid the global economic slowdown.

   South Korea's economy grew 2 percent last year, the lowest growth in three years, and the government recently slashed its growth outlook for this year from 4 percent to 3 percent. Experts worry that the rate could fall into the 2 percent range again, considering tough external market conditions.

   Park said in a meeting with local business leaders on Wednesday that she will create new growth momentum through science and technology and creativity, and create new markets and jobs.

   However, Park's latest move did not draw support from her economic mentor, Kim Chong-in, who played a key role in adding a clause on economic democratization in amending the Constitution in 1987 and drafted Park's economic democratization pledge.

   "I don't feel any need to comment any more," Kim said.

   entropy@yna.co.kr
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