Park takes knock over welfare budget trim

Park takes knock over welfare budget trim

SOUTH KOREA - The anticipated rollout of President Park Geun-hye's 2014 budget plan this week with a significant trim in her flagship welfare pledge is expected to weigh down on the government's smooth sailing.

Despite Park's previous reiteration that all her presidential pledges "will be kept," the government has been dropping hints recently of a significant cutback in some of her key welfare plans, particularly the basic pension benefits that had earned her vast support from older voters.

Her pension plan revision only looks likely to be the first of many welfare policy curtailments down the road as the government confronts the realistic struggles such as the economic slump and tax revenue deficiency.

Added to that, Park faces escalating political opposition over the National Intelligence Service debacle, while her well-received North Korea policy has been tested by Pyongyang's unilateral postponement of the separated family reunions last week.

The main opposition Democratic Party, still fuming over the failed three-way talks of last week, is vowing a tough parliamentary process ahead including the budget review and the government audit. They are also resolute on stepping up their protest against the NIS' political role and Cheong Wa Dae's alleged pressure behind prosecutor general Chae Dong-wook's resignation.

Park's approval ratings are already showing signs of faltering.

A survey on 1,000 adults by researcher Realmeter showed last Friday that 60.9 per cent approved of Park's administration skills. While the rate is still high, it was 8.6 percentage points lower than a week ago when 69.5 per cent supported her.

Another survey carried out on the same day on 1,000 adults by Research & Research also indicated stumbling popularity, with 66.0 per cent supporting her compared to 72.7 per cent the previous week.

Political watchers said the decline appears to derive from the failed negotiation on the parliament gridlock between Park and the leaders of the rival political parties on Sept. 16 right before the Chuseok holidays. While the ruling camp blamed the opposition for resorting to political tactics and shunning livelihood-related issues pending at the National Assembly, public opinion has shown "some disappointment" in her leadership skills as well, they said.

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