Changed tactics over free lunch

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Changed tactics over free lunch

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced yesterday that it will delay its plan to ask the Seoul Metropolitan Council to vote on a resident’s referendum to decide the fate of free school meals.

Seoul city government, however, said it officially asked the Supreme Court yesterday to judge whether the passage of this year’s budget for free school meals was valid.

While Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon didn’t include funds for free school lunches in this year’s budget, the council - controlled by the Democratic Party - slashed funds for Oh’s key development projects and railroaded passage of 69.5 billion won ($62.3 million) to finance a free school lunch program last year.

Mayor Oh last week suggested that the council let Seoul citizens decide on the fate of the lunch program by calling for a referendum to end a months-long deadlock in city government affairs. “Seoul city government decided to suspend its plan to ask the council to vote on a residents referendum because if the request is left pending in the council indefinitely, it could intensify the public’s confusion over the matter,” said Lee Jong-hyun, spokesman for the Seoul Metropolitan Government. “Democratic Party councilors have expressed that they wouldn’t put a resident’s referendum to a vote in the council. We will suspend the request and we’ll continue negotiating the matter with the council.”

Lee said that the city government is taking a more realistic and patient approach in terms of dealing with the matter. Political experts said the chances are very unlikely that a referendum would be approved by the council since two-thirds of the council seats are held by Democrats: 79 of the 114 city councilors are from the DP while just 29 are from Oh’s GNP.

The only other option that the Seoul Metropolitan Council is counting on is encouraging Seoul residents to force a referendum through petition. According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, Oh would need to gather signatures from one-twentieth of Seoul’s 8.36 million eligible voters, or 418,005 people. Furthermore, at least a third of eligible voters must vote to make a referendum’s result valid.

Parents and a conservative education association that support Oh’s position will begin collecting signatures on Saturday.

Political observers say Oh revoked his plan to ask the council for a referendum because even the GNP shows mixed reaction toward Oh’s move. Observers said Oh’s ambitious political showdown could jeopardize his political career. They say it will be difficult to get the required signatures.


By Kim Mi-ju [mijukim@joongang.co.kr]
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