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Park Scales Back Election Pledge on Aid to South Korean Elderly

An elderly woman dries seaweed on the beach next to the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) Wolsong Nuclear Power Plant in Gyeongju, South Korea. Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg
An elderly woman dries seaweed on the beach next to the Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) Wolsong Nuclear Power Plant in Gyeongju, South Korea. Photographer: Jean Chung/Bloomberg

Sept. 26 (Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Park Geun Hye scaled back her election pledge on aid to the elderly as the government struggles to come up with the funds to finance her planned expansion of social spending.

The government will exclude Koreans over the age of 65 from a monthly 200,000-won ($185) cash allowance promised by Park if they fall within the top 30 percent income bracket, the Welfare Ministry said in an e-mailed statement last night. Park may comment on the decision at a Cabinet meeting in Seoul today.

“This is Park’s acknowledgment that she will inevitably have to scale down her welfare programs,” Kim Yun Cheol, a visiting professor of political science at the Humanitas College of Kyung Hee University in Seoul, said by phone. “If she can be candid about the need for fiscal austerity, she may be able to prevent her approval from dropping further.”

Park won the December vote on a platform of expanded social spending, including the allowance for the elderly, as well as offering free treatment for four major diseases including cancer and cardiac disorders. She said she aimed to raise 135 trillion won over her five-year tenure to carry out those programs. The reversal comes less than a week before the government submits its 2014 budget to parliament.

Scaling back the pension pledge would be an “act of betrayal,” opposition leader Kim Han Gil said at a meeting with elderly people yesterday.

Nearly all of the remaining elderly population will begin receiving the allowance from July next year, the ministry said in the statement.

Park’s approval rate slid to 60.9 percent in a poll on Sept. 20 after she failed to convince the main opposition party to end its boycott of the current parliamentary session. Her approval rating had reached a high of 69.5 percent on Sept. 10, according to a survey by Seoul-based pollster Realmeter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sam Kim in Seoul at skim609@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at rmathieson3@bloomberg.net

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