Growth to top of Korean President's agenda

Growth to top of Korean President's agenda

President Park Geun-hye urged the rival parties Wednesday to support her government's economic stimulus plan for next year.

"Now is the last golden time for the country to rebuild its economy (as we are standing) at the crossroads between achieving another leap forward and falling into stagnation," Park said in her 42-minute-long speech at the National Assembly, urging parliamentary approval of the 2015 budget.

"If we fail to deal with both external and internal challenges, we will face a long-term, painful stagnation and lose the driving forces to re-establish the economy," she said, listing key economic risks including low growth, low inflation and a weak Japanese yen.

In the nationally televised speech, the president said that her government will expand its spending next year by 5.7 per cent from this year, and will also risk further budget deficits, in order to stimulate the country's sluggish economy.

Park also called for the swift passage of the public pension reform bill and requested rival parties to expedite its approval.

"The public pension reform is an urgent issue," she said, stressing a snowballing deficit in the pension fund and growing concern for the taxpayers' financial burden.

If we don't renovate the system now, we will end up passing the burden to the next government and future generations," Park said. "I ask for the parliament's support to complete (the passage) of the reform (bill) within this year."

The president's budget speech came amid escalating tension between her and her party over an attempt to open discussion on constitutional amendments.

Park's visit to the parliament was expected to have an impact on the continuing political wrangling over a list of controversial bills, including the one aimed at launching an independent probe into the sinking of the Sewol ferry.

Most of her speech was dedicated to seeking parliamentary support for her reform measures that are being delayed by the prolonged political deadlock. The president, however, didn't comment on political reform or the Sewol incident, at her speech.

Park, instead, asked the parties to approve pending bills aimed at improving the people's livelihood, rooting out corruption in officialdom and boosting the safety across the country.

Also mentioned in the speech was her desire to conclude the ongoing free trade deals with China, New Zealand and Vietnam.

The president asked the rival parties to ratify the two free trade deals already signed with Australia and Canada, noting that the further delay in parliamentary approval will cause great losses to Korean exporters.

In her second parliamentary address since taking office in 2013, she sought parliamentary support to pass next year's budget by the Dec. 2 legal deadline.

Members of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy joined the others in giving a standing ovation to Park as she entered the Assembly hall.

But a majority of the opposition members remained quiet during her speech, even as the ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers applauded 29 times.

After the speech, the president met leaders of the two main parties.

Her move was seen as an attempt to seek a breakthrough in the prolonged political deadlock between rival parties and build momentum for the passage of her bills, which have been stalled since early this year.

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