The new leader of the main opposition party on Monday dismissed President Park Geun-hye's tax policies as a "lie," and vowed to raise South Korea's welfare spending to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average.
Rep. Moon Jae-in, elected to head the New Politics Alliance for Democracy on Sunday, slammed Park's so-called "welfare without taxation" policies, which sparked a public uproar after her administration raised the tobacco tax and decreased tax returns in this year's settlements, while corporate taxes for conglomerates stayed the same, according to critics.
Moon also visited the graves of past authoritarian presidents Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee, breaking an unofficial moratorium by left-wing figures. But the conciliatory nature of Moon's visits were downplayed, due to his criticism of Park.
"Park's policies have divided and fractured our nation," Moon said only seconds after visiting the graves of Rhee and Park, the incumbent president's father.
"President Park's policies have created divisions domestically. Externally, her policies have led to troubled South-North relations," Moon said.
Later during a meeting with governing Saenuri Party chair Rep. Kim Moo-sung, Moon echoed the opposition's demands to raise corporate taxes for funding Park's welfare plans. Park administration officials have balked at the idea, citing an economy with inflation rates in the 1 per cent range.
The governing party welcomed Moon's visit to the resting places of presidents Rhee and Park but disagreed with Moon's tax policy proposal.
"Rep. Moon did the right thing," governing party spokesman Rep. Kim Young-woo said. "But Moon must cooperate with the Park administration for our country to move forward," he said in response to Moon's critical remarks.
South Korea's political left has generally maintained a critical stance toward Rhee and Park. Its leaders have often refused to pay respects at their tombs in the New Year, on Independence Day or on other symbolic holidays.
Rhee is credited with contributing to Japan's defeat in World War II and leading the nation in the Korean War. But he is also known as an authoritarian who violently repressed political opponents and allegedly committed war crimes.
Park is often credited with boosting South Korea's economic output in the 1960s and '70s, but is also remembered for using a security apparatus to silence dissidents such as the late former President Kim Dae-jung, a figure revered as one of the godfathers of the South Korean left.
"Every past administration has its deeds and misdeeds," Moon had said after winning the NPAD convention on Sunday. "President Park (Chung-hee) is remembered for the economic growth he fostered. President Rhee is remembered for his work in founding our country. I will visit them."
Saenuri leader Rep. Kim told Moon he would reciprocate by visiting the grave of former President Roh Moo-hyun, a left-leaning figure who died in 2009. Moon served as Roh's chief of staff.
Moon also later stopped by the tomb of Kim Gu, an anti-Japanese independence activist during Japan's rule of Korea.