Oh still proud after 5 years

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Oh still proud after 5 years

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon will never give up his battle against so-called “populism-oriented” policies, such as free school meal programs, and push efforts to boost the branding of Seoul as a leading world city, he said during a speech marking the fifth anniversary of his inauguration yesterday.

“The populism offering free welfare benefits is now emptying the state coffers and hampering the development of democracy in Korea,” the mayor said. “But 800,000 citizens in Seoul made their wise decisions to sign supporting holding a referendum [deciding whether to abolish free school meals].”

The mayor has taken a big gamble on the lunch referendum, planned for August, in which Seoul citizens will vote whether to abolish the meal program passed by the Democratic Party-controlled city council in December. Enough signatures were collected by a coalition of conservative groups - at least 5 percent of the voting population of the city - to force a referendum on ending the free lunch program.

“I think the Seoul city government’s well-organized welfare policy, not just dumping benefits to people, is the real propeople policy,” Oh said. “Whether Korea becomes a developed country by overcoming the lure of populism depends on the result of the referendum.”

Oh also boasted the improvement in the branding of Seoul since he was inaugurated.

“Since I was appointed as mayor in 2006, this year’s competitiveness of Seoul has jumped to ninth from 30th, [according to Chinese Academy of Social Sciences],” Oh said.

“The global financial centers index of Seoul has also surged to 16th in March 2011 from 53rd in 2006 [according to a London-based consulting company Z/Yen Group],” Oh said.

When it comes to the controversial Han River Renaissance project, such as constructing a waterway leading to the Yellow Sea to boost the link with ports in China or building the Floating Island Media Art Gallery on the river, Oh said he won’t stop pushing for the plans. “The Han River’s futuristic visions - building the Yellow Sea waterway project and the Han River’s artistic islands - will proceed without suspension despite any kind of political attacks, to create jobs and sustainable incomes of Seoul,” he said.

As the youngest candidate for Seoul mayor, Oh is also the first person to win the four-year term post twice, in 2006 and 2010. He graduated from the Korea University Law School in 1983 and passed the bar exam a year later.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]
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