Posted : 2011-08-26 17:13
Updated : 2011-08-26 17:13

Seoul mayor resigns over bungled free meal vote

Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks during a press conference at City Hall in Seoul, Friday. Oh said he is stepping down after losing a referendum on free school lunches. / Korea Times
By Kim Rahn

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon resigned Friday as he insinuated he would, now that the referendum on the opposition-led free lunch program was annulled two days ago.

Oh’s successor will be chosen in by-elections scheduled for Oct. 26, considered a litmus test for public sentiment ahead of next year’s general and presidential elections.

Starting his second four-year term in July last year, Oh has feuded irreconcilably with the opposition-controlled city council and Seoul’s liberal education chief Kwak No-hyun over key administrative affairs, including the free lunch program.

“I’m quitting in order to take responsibility for the nullification of the referendum. I decided to quit early, as I promised, to avoid unnecessary controversy regarding my future and to prevent an administrative vacuum for city affairs. I think this is what citizens want,” the 50-year-old conservative mayor said in a press conference.

In his resignation speech Oh cautioned that excessive welfare will increase taxes and place heavy burden on the next generation. He hoped that his stepping down will serve as an occasion for the country to discuss welfare more seriously, adding politicians will present populist welfare policies ahead of next year’s elections and it will only result in a greater financial burden for citizens.

The referendum on the free lunch program was nullified as voter turnout fell short of the legally required quorum of one-third of eligible voters in the capital.

Apologizing to the 2.15 million citizens who cast ballots in the referendum, the outgoing mayor expressed regret over not finishing his mayoral term.

Oh reported his resignation to the city council and it took effect at midnight. A farewell ceremony was held at City Hall at 5 p.m. Oh hasn’t decided on anything about his future yet, according to city Spokesman Lee Jong-hyun.

Vice Mayor for Political Affairs Cho Eun-hee, spokesman Lee and several other close aides of Oh, who joined the city government after Oh’s inauguration, will also leave their posts.

Vice Mayor for Administrative Affairs Kwon Young-gyu will serve as the acting mayor until a new mayor is elected in the October by-election. Whoever Oh’s successor will be, the city’s major projects, which Oh has promoted despite the city council’s opposition, are likely to be adrift for a while or may be scrapped altogether.

The attention is now being focused on who will replace Oh.

Parties are busy weighing up candidates for the by-election. The most frequently mentioned Grand National Party (GNP) members include Reps. Na Kyung-won, Won Hee-ryong and Chung Doo-un with the possibility of attracting a new face from outside of the party.

In the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), Rep. Chun Jung-bae announced Thursday that he will run in the by-election. Former Prime Minister Han Myung-sook, who lost the mayoral election to Oh by a narrow margin in 2010, may run again on the DP ticket.

Spokesman Lee said Oh has discussed the immediate resignation fully with GNP members, but party Chairman Hong Joon-pyo said the mayor decided to quit on his own.

“It is not desirable for a member of a party to value personal honor above the party’s interest. I regret that,” Hong said in a meeting with Seoul-based GNP members Friday morning.
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