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Key election promises and policy views of leading presidential candidates

2017/04/06 14:58

SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- The following are key election pledges of South Korea's four leading candidates for the May 9 presidential election. While many of the pledges have been officially announced by the candidates and their election camps, some are based on earlier remarks and known views. The four leading candidates are Moon Jae-in of the Democratic Party, Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party, Hong Joon-pyo of the Liberty Korea Party and Yoo Seong-min of the Bareun Party. The candidates are considered in three major areas -- foreign relations, economic policy and political reform -- with each subject further divided into two to three subcategories.

-- North Korea relations and Kaesong industrial complex

Moon Jae-in of the liberal and largest Democratic Party is said to be most sympathetic toward North Korea among the four presidential hopefuls as he often stresses the importance of dialogue between the divided Koreas. He is also in favor of reopening the joint industrial complex of the two Koreas in North Korea's border city of Kaesong, which has been closed since February 2016. Moon insists that reopening the industrial complex would help bring Pyongyang back to the dialogue table, including talks aimed at ending its nuclear ambitions.

Ahn Cheol-soo of the People's Party, on the other hand, remains skeptical of North Korea, though not as much as his conservative rivals. He has acknowledged a need to reopen the Kaesong complex, but says the resumption of economic cooperation for the impoverished North must be preceded by talks and measures aimed at reducing or even getting rid of threats from North Korea's nuclear weapons.

Yoo Seong-min of the splinter Bareun Party also notes the need to reopen the joint industrial complex, but says such a move will not be possible as long as the communist North is under international sanctions due to its provocations and nuclear ambitions.

Hong Joon-pyo of the former ruling Liberty Korea Party is the most outspoken critic of North Korea, who says resuming the joint economic cooperation project is neither possible nor desirable. In his recently published book, the conservative presidential hopeful labeled the Kaesong complex and other North Korea policies from the former liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations cash cows that help finance the communist state's nuclear weapons program. He says the Kaesong complex will not be reopened, unless North Korea completely scraps its nuclear program.

-- U.S. alliance and THAAD deployment

Moon notes the importance of a strong South Korea-U.S. alliance, saying the alliance should be "developed and strengthened." However, he says the allies need to be on a more equal footing, also noting in his recent book that South Korea must learn to say "no" to the United States. He, in fact, is the only one among the four presidential candidates to oppose the ongoing deployment of U.S. air defense system THAAD. The Democratic Party candidate says the final decision on whether to deploy the controversial missile defense system must be left to the next administration.

Ahn says the THAAD deployment must be implemented as agreed by the former administration. Just like his conservative rivals, Ahn notes the importance of a strong alliance between the two countries, and says the country's agreement with the U.S. must be honored despite a change of regime here. He says North Korea's nuclear ambition is the most urgent threat to South Korea and that his country has no choice but to work closely with its strongest ally, the U.S., to ensure its security.

Yoo and Hong, both conservative, share similar views on the THAAD deployment and bringing tactical U.S. nuclear weapons back to South Korea.

Yoo has promised to deploy additional THAAD batteries in South Korea at the country's own expense if elected. He refuses to openly comment on the possible deployment of U.S. nuclear weapons to South Korea, but is said to be in favor as he earlier said such strategic moves must be kept under a veil. He also says he will hold a summit with U.S. President Trump, if elected, to win a U.S. concession on joint management and the use of U.S. nuclear capabilities should they ever be used on the Korean Peninsula.

Hong, on the other hand, openly urges the redeployment of U.S. tactical nuclear weapons here, also calling for the deployment of THAAD at the earliest date possible. He says China's economic retaliation against South Korea and its businesses should not stop the THAAD deployment, calling economic retaliation a matter of money and the THAAD deployment a matter of "life or death."

  

--Japan relations and sexual slavery

The issue of Japan's wartime sexual slavery of Korean women is one of very few issues that all four presidential candidates displayed even the slightest agreement.

All four candidates say the country's 2015 agreement with Japan over the issue must be renegotiated or scrapped.

Moon refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the deal, noting the agreement was signed at a time when the local government could not have been working properly due to the massive corruption and influence peddling scandal that later led to the removal of former President Park Geun-hye.

Ahn calls for a probe to see if there had been any hidden deals as suspected by many, under which Seoul is said to have agreed to remove girl statues symbolizing former South Korean sex slaves of the Japanese military from their current locations near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and the Japanese Consulate in Busan, 450 kilometers south of Seoul.

Yoo says the 2015 agreement needs to be renegotiated, if possible, because it does not reflect the demands or approval of the former sex slaves themselves.

Hong has declared the agreement null, arguing that a crime against humanity, such as sexual slavery, cannot be subject to any type of agreement or arrangement for forgiveness.

-- Jobs

Most candidates are of the opinion that the government should spend part of its budget on creating jobs.

Moon has pledged to create 810,000 jobs in the public sector, including 174,000 for civil servants. He has promised to push the private sector to abide by labor regulations, including a 52-hour work week and proper use of vacation days, to lead to the creation of 500,000 more jobs. The candidate has put also forward plans to establish government committees tasked with job creation and preparations for the technology-driven fourth industrial revolution, as well as a department handling issues related to small and medium-sized firms.

Ahn has vowed to spend a total of 3 trillion won during his term to provide 6 million won per year to each young employee of a small or medium-sized firm. The pledge is designed to ensure these young members of the workforce receive about 80 percent of the salary of their counterparts at large businesses. He has also proposed providing a monthly subsidy of 300,000 won over six months to young people receiving job training.

Yoo has promised to introduce a quota for irregular workers to stop big businesses from exploiting such workers as a way to save costs. The measure aims to enhance the stability of jobs. The candidate has also made a pledge to increase the minimum hour wage from the current 6,470 won to 10,000 won by 2020 and to draw up the necessary policies to encourage citizens to launch their own businesses.

Meanwhile, Hong has opposed active government intervention in creating jobs, saying that task should be left to the private sector. The government, however, must create a favorable environment for business investment, he has claimed. The candidate has expressed opposition to front-runner Moon's pledge to create public sector jobs, saying he will reduce the number of civil servants and carry out sweeping social structural reforms.

-- Big business reform

The long-running debate over big business reform has resurfaced as a key campaign issue.

Moon has pledged to increase transparency in the management structure of big businesses known as chaebol through a concentrated vote system, electronic voting and a system of asking employees to recommend members of the board. He has vowed to raise the mandatory share of stocks a conglomerate is required to hold in an affiliate to stop chaebol families from abusing the holding company structure to succeed management to heirs.

Ahn plans to push for legal revisions aimed at checking chaebol power and widely implement a penalty system that forces businesses to pay compensation for their illegal acts. To improve the corporate management structure, he has pledged to introduce separated elections of auditors, a concentrated vote system, among other things. The candidate has said he won't issue pardons for chaebol executives jailed for corruption.

Yoo has also pledged not to pardon corrupt chaebol. His other pledges include the scrapping of the anti-monopoly watchdog's own right to bring charges against businesses and the introduction of a group litigation system as well as a punitive compensation system.

Hong, meanwhile, has warned against casting the chaebol as evil, saying such perceptions are unhelpful to the nation's economic development. While the chaebol should be punished for their misdeeds, it is absurd to bash them and demand more jobs at the same time, he has said.

-- Welfare

The welfare policy has become an increasingly pressing issue as the nation is faced with growing income gaps, low birth rates and an aging population.

Moon has pledged to introduce a system to cap household debt and lower the maximum interest rate to 20 percent. He plans to also introduce a flexible work program under which mothers with children below elementary school age can work only from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. without a reduction in their salary. The candidate has promised to pay mothers without unemployment insurance a monthly maternity allowance of 500,000 won for three months.

Ahn is reportedly looking into a welfare plan tailored for each age and income group. Policies under consideration include increasing the basic pension for senior citizens to lower the poverty rate among them and a new allowance for children, but only for the social classes and income groups that need them.

Hong's welfare plan centers on giving freedom to the rich and opportunity to the average citizen. In particular, he plans to repeal the universal free childcare program offered to all children up to age 5 and introduce a staged program that offers different levels of support to five different income groups. The governor of South Gyeongsang Province also intends to offer all citizens the same educational support currently provided in stages to South Gyeongsang children and young people who are from average families and in elementary through high school, in college, or seeking jobs.

Yoo has said he will gradually raise the average monthly national pension from the current 360,000 won to 800,000 won and gradually reduce the individual burden for health insurance fees from 36.8 percent in 2014 to 20 percent. His solution for resolving the low birth rate dilemma is to increase maternity benefits to include three-year maternity leave for private sector employees, a hike in maternity leave allowances, restrictions on overtime work, an expansion of public childcare facilities to 70 percent of the total, and an allowance of 100,000 won for each child in elementary through high school.

-- Constitutional revision

All four major presidential candidates agree on the need to rewrite the Constitution that experts say fails to embrace social and political changes that have occurred since its last amendment in 1987. They largely agree to hold a referendum on the revision in tandem with the local elections next year, but differ on how the basic law should be rewritten.

Moon and Yoo have said the revision should aim to change the current single, five-year presidential term into two four-year terms, which observers say would help ensure a more stable and consistent policy implementation.

But Ahn has emphasized the need to alter the current government structure that grants inordinate powers to a state leader and thus makes him or her more prone to corruption. Ahn has opposed a parliamentary cabinet system, citing a lack of public trust towards the legislature long mired in factional, ideological and partisan feuds.

Hong has yet to lay out his clear stance on the constitutional reform, but mentioned the need to not only change the government structure, but also reorganize the current unicameral legislature into a bicameral one to strengthen a parliamentary democracy.

-- Prosecution reform

Presidential candidates concur on the need for the reform of the prosecution, which critics say wields "too much" power while dominating both the rights to investigate and indict criminal suspects.

Moon has vowed to weaken state prosecutors' investigation authority and give more power to police by allowing them to carry out independent probes. Police have so far been conducting investigations under the prosecution's directives.

Hong has also pledged to bolster the stature of the police by enabling them to independently seek arrest warrants against suspects without consulting the prosecution.

Ahn and Yoo have not laid out any specific plan to reform the prosecution. But Ahn has vowed to strengthen the independence of the judiciary by revoking the presidential right to appoint a Supreme Court chief. Yoo has pledged to establish a powerful anti-corruption agency to stamp out any improprieties committed by public officials.

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