Dispute over plaza rallies

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Dispute over plaza rallies

Two of the capital’s municipal governing bodies are in the midst of a political confrontation over whether to allow rallies and demonstrations at Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall in downtown Seoul.

Elections in June swept opposition Democratic Party members into most of the seats on the Seoul Metropolitan Council, but the Seoul Metropolitan Government is led by the Grand National Party’s Mayor Oh Se-hoon.

The council held a regular session yesterday and revised the ordinance regarding use of the plaza. According to the original ordinance, Seoul Plaza can only be used for cultural activities, and those who want to use the space need to submit an application to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, where the mayor has final say over approval. However, the Council has now added rallies and demonstrations to the Plaza’s legal uses and has changed the application process so that groups only need to report to the government that they will be gathering, not ask for approval.

“If rallies and demonstrations are allowed at Seoul Plaza, certain political groups could dominate the space and others will not be able to enjoy it,” said Kang Cheol-won, chief political affairs officer at the metropolitan government. “As soon as the revised ordinance arrives at the mayor’s office, we will submit it for reconsideration.”

According to the revised ordinance, if two groups of people plan to use the plaza at the same time, the Seoul Plaza Management Committee will decide which group will receive authorization. Currently, that committee is composed of 15 people, 10 of whom are appointed by the mayor. The revised ordinance will shift that balance, allowing the chairman of the metropolitan council to recommend 10 of the 15 committee members.

“The revised ordinance conflicts with higher laws such as the Public Property Law,” said Yu Gil-jun, head of the administration and management team at Seoul City Hall. According to Article 20 of the Public Property Law, anyone who would like to use public property that belongs to the government needs to get permission from the authorities first.

The revised ordinance will arrive at the Seoul Metropolitan Government within the next five days, and the mayor will have 20 days to submit it for reconsideration. If he does so, the council can hold another vote on the law. If it garners a two-thirds majority of council members’ votes, it will come into effect over the mayor’s objections. As the DP members occupy 79 out of 114 council seats, the revised ordinance is likely to pass again even if the city office requests reconsideration. However, the city can still file a lawsuit at the Supreme Court to have the ordinance struck down.

By Chang Chung-hoon [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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