Seoul Mayor Oh loses big in free lunch referendum

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Seoul Mayor Oh loses big in free lunch referendum

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Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks yesterday at a news conference in City Hall after a third of Seoul’s voters failed to vote in his lunch referendum. [YONHAP]

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon’s battle against a free school lunch program fizzled yesterday when voter turnout in the capital’s first referendum didn’t exceed one-third, the minimum legal requirement.

Oh will almost certainly have to quit, having vowed to stake his job on the vote, ending a meteoric, 11-year career that could have led to the presidency.

His fellow conservatives in the ruling Grand National Party will have to divine what the vote says about the public’s attitude toward populist welfare programs like the lunches, which are now guaranteed to be the major issue in general and presidential elections coming up next year.

The referendum was held at 2,206 polling stations from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. yesterday to decide whether to end the free meal program, which the Seoul Metropolitan Council voted into law last December.

According to the Seoul Election Commission, 2,157,722 people, 25.7 percent of the city’s 8,387,278 eligible voters, cast ballots in the referendum, too low to reach the legal minimum requirement of one-third.

The initial turnout started at 1.7 percent at 7 a.m. and steadily rose to 9.2 percent at 10 a.m. and 15.8 percent at 1 p.m. However, the increase in voting started to slow after lunch time, recording 17.1 at 2 p.m. and 18.4 at 3 p.m. The mayor’s side hoped the rate would rise in the evening, when workers left their offices, but the turnout at 7 p.m. was 23.5 percent, a mere 1.4 percent increase from the previous hour.

The 50-year-old, two-term mayor gambled his political career on the vote. Oh opposed the free meal program passed by his liberal rivals in control of the Seoul City Council, calling it “populist,” and proposed free meals only for children from poorer households. The mayor said at a briefing Sunday that he would “stake his mayoralty on the referendum,” eight days after he vowed not to run for the presidency in 2012, trying to refute speculation that the referendum was a political gimmick to boost his career.

“I will humbly accept the verdict of the voters,” the mayor said yesterday at a briefing. “It is really a pity to miss the only chance to confirm the future of our nation and the right way forward for our welfare policy. I appreciate for all voters who participated in the vote.”

After his 30-second statement, Oh left the briefing room, refusing to comment on his impending resignation. He didn’t take questions from reporters.

A close aide of Oh told reporters the mayor will make an announcement soon about his resignation.

If Oh steps down before Sept. 30, a by-election will be held on Oct. 26. Otherwise, the election will be put off until April 11 when the next general election takes place.

Liberal lawmakers campaigned against the referendum in underprivileged neighborhoods, encouraging people to boycott the vote to keep it from getting the crucial one-third turnout.

An analysis of yesterday’s turnout showed their campaign worked. Most of the votes in the referendum came from three wealthy and conservative districts in Gangman, where support for the mayor and a dislike of the lunch program was strong.

Seocho District, where 126,296 voters cast ballots, recorded the highest turnout in Seoul, 36.2 percent, followed by Gangnam District with 35.4 percent. Songpa district had 30.6 percent. The Seocho and Gangnam Districts were the only places in Seoul that recorded one-third turnouts.

In the mayoral election in June 2010, those three districts helped Oh win re-election.

Relatively poor areas recorded low turnouts. Geumcheon District, southwestern Seoul, recorded 20.2 percent, the lowest. Gwanak District attracted only 20.3 percent of eligible voters, following Gangbuk District, which had 21.7 percent.

GNP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo said yesterday to reporters, “If the turnout exceeds 25 percent, it’s not our defeat. I know most of people who voted in this referendum are our supporters. So if turnout exceeds 25 percent, I’m sure we will win the next year’s presidential election.”

The party was slow to support Oh’s side in the referendum. A few days ago, GNP Chairman Hong Joon-pyo said the party would “put all efforts on the campaign.” But the GNP’s leading presidential candidate, Park Geun-hye, didn’t support Oh and is pledging to expand the nation’s welfare system.


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


한글 관련 기사 [중앙일보]

보수의 패배…투표율 25.7%, 무상급식 주민투표 개표 무산

곽노현 안대로 초등생 전면 무상급식
오세훈 이르면 오늘 거취 표명


서울시 무상급식 주민투표의 투표율이 33.3%에 미달해 개표가 무산됐다. 중앙선거관리위원회에 따르면 24일 실시된 주민투표에서 투표권자 838만7278명 중 215만7772명이 투표에 참여, 25.7%의 투표율을 기록했다. ‘전면 무상급식’(야당안)과 ‘단계적 무상급식’(서울시안) 중 하나를 선택하는 이번 투표에선 야권이 투표 불참운동을 벌임에 따라 투표율이 개표 요건인 33.3%를 넘지 못했다. 이에 따라 투표함을 열지 못할 경우 서울시장직을 내놓겠다고 약속한 오세훈 서울시장은 사퇴할 수밖에 없게 됐다. 초등학생·중학생 무상 급식은 곽노현 안대로 전면 실시할 수 있는 길이 열렸다.

오 시장은 투표가 끝난 오후 8시30분 서울시청에서 기자회견을 열고 “투표 결과를 겸허히 받아들이며 어려운 환경에서 투표에 당당하게 참여한 서울시민 유권자께 고개 숙여 사과드린다”고 했다. 이종현 서울시 대변인은 오 시장 거취와 관련, “당과 상의해서 하루 이틀 내에 입장을 발표할 것”이라고 말했다.

 이번 주민투표 결과는 오 시장의 실패, 보수의 패배를 의미한다. 오 시장은 지난 21일 투표율에 시장직을 걸면서 무상급식 문제에 대한 정책 투표를 자신에 대한 신임 투표로 성격을 바꿨다. 이에 한나라당과 보수 성향의 시민단체도 투표율을 올리기 위해 총력전을 전개했다.

이명박 대통령도 몽골 방문에 앞서 녹음한 인터넷·라디오 연설을 통해 ‘포퓰리즘은 안 된다’는 메시지를 전하며 오 시장을 측면 지원했다. 여권과 보수 진영 전체가 주민투표에 매달리는 형국이었다. 그러나 오 시장의 승부수는 실패로 돌아갔다. 서울시 25개 구(區) 중 투표율이 33.3%를 넘은 곳은 강남구(35.4%)와 서초구(36.2%)뿐이었다. 보수층이 결집하다시피 했는 데도 투표율이 낮게 나온 만큼 보수는 이념 대결의 양상을 띤 이번 주민투표에서 완패한 셈이다.

 서울대 강원택(정치학) 교수는 “복지에 관한 국민의 요구가 국가의 적극적인 역할을 주문하는 상황인데도 보수 진영은 시대적 요구를 읽지 못한 채 이념적인 틀에 갇혀 있다는 사실이 명백히 드러난 투표였다”며 “투표 결과는 보수의 패배로, 보수가 정치적 주도권을 진보에 빼앗긴 게 아니라 주도권을 ‘가져가세요’라며 넘겨준 것”이라고 말했다.

 연세대 김호기(사회학) 교수는 “정책적으로는 한나라당의 반(反)포퓰리즘 논리가 야권의 보편적 무상급식론을 무찌르는 데 실패했으며, 정치적으로는 오 시장이 주민투표에 시장직을 건 이유를 중도층에 설명하지 못해 패배하는 결과가 나왔다”고 지적했다.

 오 시장은 물러날 시기를 저울질하고 있다. 그가 9월 30일 이전에 물러나면 서울시장 보궐선거일은 10월 26일이 된다. 10월에 물러나면 서울시장 보선은 내년 4월 총선과 함께 실시된다. 청와대와 한나라당은 10월 보선을 기피하고 있다. 오 시장도 당 측에 “10월 8일까지는 사퇴 안 한다”는 뜻을 전달했다고 한다. 그러나 야권은 “당장 사퇴하라”고 강하게 압박하고 있다. 여권의 한 관계자는 “한나라당 일각에서도 오 시장이 빨리 물러나는 게 좋다는 목소리가 나오면 오 시장의 사퇴 시기가 앞당겨질 수 있다”고 말했다.

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