Encourage Seoulites to voteAhead of Seoul’s referendum on the free school lunch program, Mayor Oh Se-hoon declared on Friday that he would not be a candidate in the next presidential election. “I believe there is a need to get rid of misunderstanding ahead of the referendum,” Oh said. He has faced criticism that he was using the referendum as a political campaign tool for his ambition to run in the next election. To end the debate, it is welcoming to see Oh’s declaration.
Using direct democracy - a referendum - under a republic means that representative democracy has failed to function properly. The upcoming referendum is a good example. Regarding how to proceed with the free school lunch program, Oh and the opposition Democratic Party-dominated Seoul Metropolitan Council failed to find a compromise. The city council pushed forward the ordinance to begin free school lunches for all, and Oh fought the move with the referendum as his last resort.
They failed to find a solution - perhaps because the free school lunch program is extremely sensitive. The difference in views toward the program between Oh and the city council is the same as that of the ruling Grand National Party and Democratic Party. While the opposition argued that welfare benefits must be given to everyone, the ruling party argued the benefits should be given selectively, only to people in need.
They both argue for expanded welfare benefits, but the ideas of “universal welfare” and “selective welfare” are completely different in terms of ideology. When enforced, the policy also has a great impact on people’s lives.
The referendum is the beginning of a series of battles on “free welfare.” The opposition party is promoting not only free school lunches, but free child care and free medical treatment. Cutting college tuition is also in the same vein. Therefore, the upcoming referendum is a decisive moment for creating a larger direction on how welfare policies should proceed and to express our attitude toward our politics.
A clear-cut conclusion must be made through the referendum. Politicians must do their best to encourage voters to participate. The opposition parties must stop their boycott campaigns immediately. The lawmakers have paralyzed our system of representative democracy, and now they are shamelessly trying to stop the people from exercising their right to vote. Instead, they must reflect on why we are facing a referendum, and how its results will be reflected on policies going forward.