Saenuri Party presidential candidate Park Geun-hye
By Shin Seung-keun and Cho Hye-jeong, staff reporters
The second televised debate between major presidential candidates on Dec. 10 focused on the economy, with tense exchanges among the three candidates over economic democracy and plans for dealing with recession.
The performance of the Saenuri Party’s Park Geun-hye and the Democratic United Party’s Moon Jae-in could prove pivotal in the couple of weeks before the election, with the polling gap between the two of them falling within the margin of error.
For the debate at the KBS network’s studios in Seoul’s Yeouido neighborhood, Park emphasized restoring the middle class, while Moon argued in favor of economic democracy. Unified Progressive Party candidate Lee Jung-hee stressed the issues of laid-off and temporary workers.
In her opening statement, Park said she planned to “change the governance paradigm to a citizen-centered one and implement a middle class rebuilding project to bring 70% of the public within the middle class.”
Moon’s emphasis was on the need for chaebol reform.
“Ours has become an age of despair for the public, where wealth, standing, and social status are all inherited,” he said. “The Saenuri Party economy of privilege and the Park Geun-hye economy of chaebol offer us no hope.”
The candidates clashed over ideas for handling economic crisis. Park said short-term plans should include addressing the household debt issue, while long-term plans should involve improving the constitution of the economy and locating growth engines. Moon argued that the solutions were economic democratization and job creation.
“My administration will democratize the economy so that the benefits of growth are distributed evenly,” he said.
Lee said that the only way out of the working class’s crisis would be to solve the problems of layoffs and temporary employment.
Despite the agreement on the need for economic democracy, the three differed sharply on ideas for pursuing it, such as reviving the total equity investment ceiling and addressing current circular equity investment by chaebol.
Park argued against the return of the ceiling.
“During the Roh Moo-hyun administration [2003-2008], they said they would abolish the ceiling, but nothing came of it,” she said. “I have to ask why [Moon Jae-in] is making that pledge now without having kept that promise.”
Moon countered by noting that more than 300 affiliates of the top ten conglomerates have appeared since the Lee Myung-bak administration abolished the ceiling.
“These new affiliates have taken away the rights of neighborhood businesses that sell pizza, ddeokbokki [a popular rice-based snack], and Korean-style sausage,” he added. “That’s why we need the ceiling again.”
On the issue of circular shareholding prohibitions, Park said it was “going too far to act as though these limits are all there is to economic democracy. Policies that are geared too strongly to choking chaebol will only lead to decreased investment and fewer jobs.”
Moon fired back that Park and the Saenuri Party (NFP) were responsible for wasteful government projects under the Lee administration.
“Over the past five years, the Saenuri Party administration sunk 22 trillion won (US$20.4 billion) into the Four Major Rivers Project and 100 trillion won (US$92.8 billion) into tax cuts for the rich,” he said. “For four years, Park helped railroad the budgets through for those.”
Having already gone through one round of debates, the candidates appeared softer-spoken and more relaxed than in the first. However, there was some tension as Lee went on the attack against Park over tax payments for a house in Seoul’s Seongbuk neighborhood that she received from Keangnam Enterprises chairman Shin Gi-su in 1982. Moon showed more of the same gentle demeanor he exhibited in the first debate, but also held fast when arguing his points.
Twitter and online message boards began blowing up as soon as the debate got under way at 8pm, offering a real-time commentary on the candidate’s facial expressions, speaking style, and comments.
Early on, Internet users focused on Lee, who drew much attention in the first debate with her aggressive tactics. They were particularly impressed with her comment that economic democratization “is about taking people like Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee and Hyundai chairman Chung Mong-koo who are above the Constitution now and putting them back in their rightful place.”
Online commenters said she had delivered a “scathing blow against chaebol.” One said, “It’s the first time I’ve heard such a thing on a widely watched terrestrial TV network.”
In the later stages, the focus was on Park’s slips of the tongue. In particular, her comment that she would “stimulate the underground economy to fund welfare services” resulted in “underground economy” becoming one of the most popular search terms on popular portal sites. The candidate apparently substituted the word “stimulate” for “legalize,” a word that sounds similar in Korean.
Internet users seized on the gaffe. “She’s a beneficiary of the underground economy herself,” wrote one. Another said, “The gangsters and hostess bar operators will love that,” while still another said that “such mistakes aren‘t suitable for a presidential debate.”
One user using the handle “blue***” wrote, “For Lee Jung-hee, it was ‘hit Park Geun-hye,’ for Moon Jae-in it was ‘hit the mark,’ and for Park Geun-hye it was ‘hit the books.’”
The candidates also had very different looks as they left the studio after the debate.
Moon appeared cheerful, saying, “I clearly showed the differences in our policies, and the public clearly understands them, so now it’s up to them to make their judgment.”
Lee hinted at more attacks on Park to come. “She watched the rebroadcast, didn’t she?” she said. “She’s going to rewatch this one for the third.”
Park left the studio without offering much in the way of comments to reporters.
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