The Seoul Metropolitan Government is set to hold a referendum in the fourth week of August to ask residents whether they approve the free lunch program for all or selected groups of students, officials said Wednesday, in the latest debate over welfare populism.
The free lunch program, passed by the opposition-controlled city council last December, has been a key welfare issue, along with calls for lowering college tuitions, ahead of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections. Budget hawks and opponents argue children from rich families do not need free lunch, while supporters say the government should put its budget priority on welfare.
Wrapping up verification of signatures collected by a coalition of conservative groups, the city's review committee said it has approved 512,250 signatures, or 62.8 percent of the total, allowing the city to hold the referendum on the state-funded school meals program.
For the vote to take place, over 418,000 signatures, or 5 percent of the total population, are needed.
The municipal government plans to officially pick a day between Aug. 23-25 for voting later this month or early next month, officials said.
If held, it will be the first time Seoul has held a referendum on administrative affairs since the system was adopted in 2004.
The prospects for the poll on free lunches are still uncertain as ballot counting takes place only if one-third of eligible voters participate. (Yonhap News)