Mayor bows out of presidential race

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Mayor bows out of presidential race

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said yesterday he will not run for president next year and will concentrate instead on winning the upcoming referendum on the free school lunch program, a move that seemed designed to dispel criticism that he is using the referendum for his own political benefit in the presidential race.

“I’ve noticed that [speculation over the presidential election] is distorting the original intention of the referendum,” Oh said at a press briefing. “To get rid of those misunderstandings, I want to state clearly that I will not run in the presidential election in 2012.

“I’ve concluded the referendum is the most important thing for me, because it’s an issue that will determine the future of the state.”

The mayor expressed concern about the so-called populist policies proposed by the opposition parties, citing as evidence examples of countries that are in danger of default due to expansion of their welfare systems.

“Countries around the world are now at risk due to the populist welfare policies of countries such as Greece or Italy,” Oh said. “Amidst the shock of the global recession, we have politicians advocating for a welfare policy that is a burden to taxpayers.”

Criticizing the main opposition Democratic Party for supporting a program of free school meals for all students, Oh said, “The DP’s welfare policy seems to be for the poor, but it is an unfair policy in favor of rich students. The upcoming referendum will decide whether the country is heading toward a sustainable or imprudent welfare system.”

Though he has declined to run in 2012, Oh said he still hasn’t decided whether he would quit his post as mayor if the referendum were to fail.

“Because of the sincerity of Seoul citizens who voted for me in last year’s local election, I can’t easily abandon my post,” Oh said.

He added that “unlike running for president, resigning as mayor is something that should be first discussed within the Grand National Party,” drawing applause from the GNP members present at the briefing.

“We welcome Oh’s decision as an expression of his loyalty and determination to focus on his duties as Seoul mayor, not as a strategy to run in the presidential election,” GNP spokesman Kim Gi-hyeon told reporters at a briefing yesterday. “He has clarified his will to fight against the DP’s ‘tax-draining welfare policy.’ The GNP will vigorously stand by Oh’s efforts to win the referendum from now on.”

Opposition party lawmakers voiced their displeasure at the mayor’s announcement.

“We don’t care whether Mayor Oh runs in the election or not, because we don’t even regard him as a candidate for the election,” DP spokesman Lee Yong-sup said at another briefing yesterday. “His announcement was merely intended as a way to pressure citizens to vote in the referendum.”

Lee continued by saying that Oh is anxious about the possibility of a lack of voter turnout that could nullify the referendum and is “using brinkmanship” to promote his position.

“The futile referendum, which will cost taxpayers about 18.2 billion won [$16.9 million], should be withdrawn,” Lee said.

Meanwhile, the Blue House announced yesterday that President Lee Myung-bak will cast his absentee ballot on Aug. 18 or 19 on the free school lunch bill.

As the presidential office announced the plan, political observers interpreted that President Lee wants to show strong support for Mayor Oh on the referendum and to press ruling party lawmakers to support Mayor Oh.

The mayor is betting his political career on the referendum, which was passed by the opposition party-controlled city council last December without the mayor’s consent.

While Oh says that students from wealthy families should not be provided with free meals, opposition party lawmakers argue that if free lunches are given only to students in need, the students will face discrimination.

The city government launched the referendum to decide the fate of the lunch program, where voters will choose among two options: providing free lunches to students from the lower 50-percent-income households or providing them to all students. However, if less than a third of the population in Seoul casts votes, the referendum will instantly be declared void.

Since the July 27 flooding that devastated the Gangnam area in southern Seoul, the mayor has faced the possibility of losing support there ahead of the referendum. Local media have criticized the mayor for focusing too much attention on his Han River Renaissance Project, while neglecting the capital’s poor drainage system.

Oh apologized for his lack of attention to the problem on Aug. 4.

Adding to the mayor’s woes, when GNP floor leader Hwang Woo-yea proposed on Aug. 9 to expand free child care to include all families, opposition lawmakers criticized the plan as contradictory to Oh’s attempts to abolish the free lunch program, raising questions about whether the party will support the mayor in the referendum.

With pressure on Oh to win the referendum mounting, Oh appeared on a television talk show yesterday with Seoul education superintendent Kwak No-hyun, who is in favor of offering free lunches across the board, for a debate.

By Kim Hee-jin []

한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

대선 불출마, 박근혜에게 도와달라는 뜻

오세훈 주민투표 기자회견 … ‘오세훈 정국’ 속으로
오세훈 ‘시장직 사퇴’는 최후의 히든 카드

“2012년 대통령 선거에 불출마한다고 분명히 말하겠습니다.”

 오세훈(사진) 서울시장의 12일 기자회견은 바로 핵심으로 나갔다. 그는 “복지 포퓰리즘에 누군가는 제동을 걸어야 한다”고 강조했다.

‘오세훈이 만든 오세훈 정국’의 시작이다.

그는 “불면과 고통의 밤이었다. 어제 잠을 거의 못 잤다. 혼자 결정했다”고 말했다.

 그의 대선 불출마 선언은 ‘주민투표는 오 시장이 보수의 아이콘이 되려는 정치 쇼’라는 야권 공세에 대한 답이다. 오 시장의 이날 선언은 투표 지지 당론을 세우고도 미적댔던 한나라당에 이제 행동에 나서라는 압박으로도 작용하고 있다.

 기자회견에서 대선 불출마의 배경에 대한 질문이 이어졌다.

-왜 불출마를 선언하나.

 “내년 대선을 고심하지 않은 것은 아니다. 그러나 내 거취 문제가 투표의 의미를 훼손하고, 나의 진심을 왜곡하고 있기 때문이다.”

 -한나라당도 포퓰리즘에 기대고 있는데.

 “어떤 정치 세력이든 표 앞에서는 흔들린다. 정치 이해관계를 바탕에 깔고 판단한다. 민주당뿐만 아니라 한나라당도 고민해야 할 부분이다.”

불출마 선언은 한나라당 친박근혜계에 손을 내민 것이기도 하다. 오 시장의 측근은 “친박계에선 잠재적 경쟁자에 대한 불안감이 있었을 텐데 이제 태도 변화를 기대한다”고 말했다. 그러나 박 전 대표를 움직일 수 있을지는 의문이다. 한 친박계 의원은 “박 전 대표가 직접 나서서 투표를 독려할 가능성은 거의 없을 걸로 본다”고 말했다.

민주당은 ‘무시 전략’으로 나온다. 이용섭 대변인은 “투표율 미달로 정치적 치명상을 입을 가능성이 커지자 온갖 벼랑 끝 전술로 서울시민을 위협하고 있다”고 말했다.

 오 시장이 목표를 이룰지는 미지수다. 투표 결과가 효력을 갖기 위한 최소 투표율은 33.3%(약 279만 명)다. 지난해 서울시장 선거 때는 442만6000명이 투표장에 나갔고, 208만 명이 오 시장에게 표를 주었다.

 오시장 측은 그래서 다음 단계를 고민하고 있다. 그는 11일 밤 본지 기자와 만나 “12일 회견이 마지막은 아닐 것”이라고 말했다. 다음 카드는 시장직 연계다. 이 카드는 한나라당을 흔들 수 있다. 내년 총선을 오세훈 시장 없이 치르는 건 힘겹기 때문이다. 서울 24개 구(1곳 공석) 중 19개 구의 구청장을 야권이 장악하고 있다. 그가 시장직을 던지는 순간, 한나라당 국회의원이나 잠재 후보자들은 낙선 공포에 빠질 수 있다.

  -왜 시장직을 걸지 않나.

 “마지막까지 한 고민이 그 부분이다. 우선 나를 선택해준 서울 유권자의 뜻을 저버릴 수 없다. 두 번째는 당과의 협의다. 국회의원과 지역구 위원장들은 시장직 연계를 바라지 않는다.”

 이 말은 사실상 “나를 도우라”는 메시지다. 주민투표까지는 11일 남았다.
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