Last week we covered Moon Jae-In, the rising star for the Progressives. Then what about the GNP? Well, it looks like Seoul’s mayor Oh Se-Hoon is making a push. In fact, he has been making a push for the last few months until he ran into a certain watery distraction lately.
The issue: Oh is facing off the Seoul City Council which is three-quarters Democratic. And the City Council (at the urging of Kwak No-Hyeon, the elected head of Seoul Metropolitan Education Office,) passed a budget last December that included free school lunch for every student in Seoul. Mayor Oh has not been happy about that, as he believes that free lunch for everyone is a populist measure that is not sustainable. He instead made a counter-proposal to gradually provide free lunch for students in the bottom 50% of the income bracket.
What about the budget that already passed? Mayor Oh wants to have a city-wide referendum repealing the budget. He said he would “bet his political life” on this referendum, although in a recent interview he seemed to back away from the implication that he would quit being a mayor if the referendum failed. The referendum is now scheduled to be held on August 24.
Of course, the response from the Progressives is strident. Kwak, the driver of the “free lunch” movement, is reportedly seeking a legal challenge to stop the referendum. And the Internet is replete with jokes about how Oh has money and time for this issue but not for, you know, that crazy rain that ended up killing more than 50 people. (The “Ohseidon” series is my favorite.)
But interestingly, the GNP establishment does not seem to be enthusiastic about this move either. Officially the party is behind the mayor, but the party’s high-ranking members are suspicious about Oh’s motives. Seoul’s referendum rules say that unless more than 1/3 of the citizens voted, the ballot box will not be opened and the votes will not be counted. This particular referendum is in real danger of not meeting that 1/3 line. So certain GNP members think that Oh would rather go out as a martyr for conservative values rather than a failed mayor that could not get around the Dems-dominated City Council. And that does seem to be an accurate analysis — Oh either gets the policy he wants, or gains a symbolic value among conservatives. It is not a bad move on his part.