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SEOUL, Sept. 26 (Yonhap) -- President Park Geun-hye apologized Thursday for scaling back her election promise to pay a monthly allowance to all senior citizens, saying the current economic conditions could not sustain the program.
The basic pension plan was one of Park's key campaign pledges during last year's presidential election. It called for giving a monthly allowance of 200,000 won (US$186) to all senior citizens aged 65 or above regardless of their income level.
"I'm sorry for being unable to provide (the allowance) to all senior citizens," Park said as she presided over a Cabinet meeting at the presidential office. "However, this does not mean I am abandoning my pledge. There is no change in my belief that a campaign pledge, which is a promise with the people, must be kept."
A revised plan, revealed earlier this week, calls for paying a monthly allowance of between 100,000 and 200,000 won to the poorest 70 percent of senior citizens aged 65 or above.
The program will begin next July, while the exact amount will depend on whether an individual is subscribed to the existing national pension program and the length of the subscription period.
"There have been claims that people with longer subscription periods will be worse off, but that is not true," Park said. "In all cases, those who are subscribed to the pension program will receive more than they receive now."
She also stressed that it is her belief that the richest 30 percent of senior citizens should also benefit from the new program once the economic situation improves.
"Although some of (my pledges) could not be carried out on schedule exactly as promised due to the difficult financial circumstances, I will do my best to fulfill them all within my term," Park said.
The decision to scale back the original program was based not only on the current economic woes but also on concerns that the plan would put an excessively heavy burden on future generations, she added, saying that the program was estimated to cost 157 trillion won by 2040.
The plan, which was approved by the Cabinet as part of the government's budget proposal for next year, is subject to parliamentary approval.
Opposition parties have vowed to reject it, accusing Park and her ruling Saenuri Party of breaking their promise to the people.
"President Park Geun-hye is overturning all of the key campaign pledges that made her president," Rep. Kim Han-gil, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), said at a rally denouncing the administration in front of the National Assembly. "If President Park ignores the people like this, she will soon be ignored by the people."
The pension plan was one of many welfare projects Park promised during her campaign. Since taking office in February, however, she has constantly been dogged by questions about whether the government will be able to finance all of them without increasing taxes due to the slow economic recovery.
The ruling party also offered an apology for the revision.
"No matter what the reason, I am very sorry that as a responsible ruling party, we were not able to give (the allowance) to all senior citizens as they expected," Rep. Choi Kyoung-hwan, the floor leader of the ruling party, said at a Supreme Council meeting.
However, he rejected the opposition party's accusations, saying it had no right to criticize the ruling party as the DP "poured out reckless welfare promises" during the election.
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