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I’ll go if meal vote fails: Oh

Aug. 21, 2011 - 19:28 By
Decision to have impact on political landscape ahead of elections

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon on Sunday vowed to step down should his plan to limit free school lunches to poor children be rejected in a citywide referendum on Wednesday.

The second-term mayor, who had announced he would not run for president next year, said that he would stake his post on the vote to take full responsibility for its outcome.

“I will take a full responsibility by putting my mayorship at stake in both cases ― either if the voting turnout doesn’t exceed 33.3 percent or if my plan is not approved with the majority of votes against,” Oh told the press conference at City Hall.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon wipes his tears at a news conference announcing he would resign if his plan for free school lunches loses in the Aug. 24 referendum. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

The ballot will be considered valid only if one third of the city’s eligible voters cast votes. A majority vote is needed for his plan to pass in the first-ever plebiscite for the capital.

“If my decision today can sow the seeds to bear the fruits of sustainable welfare and true democracy in this country, I have no regret even if I fade into the mists of history,” he said in a tearful speech.

Oh also said if the free school meal program which he opposes passes the vote, it would go against Seoul City’s welfare policy which advocates helping the poor stand on their own feet and become self-supporting. If he is unable to defend this principle, he would not be right for him to remain as mayor, he said.

He stressed that citizens can uphold his welfare principles and should demonstrate their will on voting day.

Oh has advocated providing free school lunches to children most in need while opposition parties and the opposition-led Seoul City Council argue that all children should be given free lunches regardless of family income. Oh has denounced the opposition’s plan as “welfare populism” that will weigh on the finances of citizens.

Earlier, Oh, once a ruling party presidential hopeful, had said that he would not run for president regardless of the outcome of the referendum, apparently to head off criticism that he was using the vote to boost his profile for the 2012 presidential race. At that time, though, he fell short of betting his mayorship on the referendum result.

His vow to resign if he loses the vote came as a bombshell to the GNP leadership which largely remains opposed to linking his mayorship to the vote result.

Political analysts say his decision to stake his post on the referendum also reflects his desperate efforts to raise voter turnout, which will decide if the plebiscite itself will stand or fall.

Oh’s decision is expected to impact the future political landscape for both ruling and opposition parties. If Oh loses in the vote, some damage is expected, especially to the ruling party, because political observers predict the next mayor to come from opposition parties in a by-election. With Oh out, changes are likely in the next year’s parliament and presidential elections.

The main opposition Democratic Party on Sunday called Oh’s announcement “a fraud which threatens and terrorizes Seoul citizens.” As his political career is seen to be in danger, he used political brinkmanship, officials of the party said.

With three days left before the plebiscite, both the ruling and opposition parties stepped up campaigns on the streets and online over the weekend.

Lawmakers from the ruling party campaigned to raise the voting turnout while opposition parties encouraged citizens to boycott the vote to invalidate the referendum.

By Lee Woo-young (