Seoul Mayor Crusades Against Welfare Populism

The ruling party comes to mayor's aid in his bid to hold a referendum
against free meals

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon has reiterated his fight against the welfare populism that opposition parties and even ruling party members have jointly called for to woo voters ahead of next year's general and presidential elections.
At a speech he delivered to reporters at a celebration of the fifth anniversary of his taking office as Seoul Mayor on July 13, Oh said, It is regrettable that opposition parties have demanded the same welfare even for the well-to-do, and even ruling party members are tempted and swayed. The mayor devoted most of his news conference to his opposition to the implementation of free meals to all primary students by the opposition-dominated Seoul City Council, a majority of whom were elected on such electioneering slogans as free meals.
All people oppose dictatorship because they are well aware that it is a bad thing, but they find it is not easy to stand up against public populism deceiving the general public, and welfare populism has attempted to empty the national coffers and hinder national development, but 800,000 Seoulites, [who have joined a signature-gathering campaign to put the issue to a residents'referendum] have made their judgment wisely, Mayor Oh said. He noted that the Republic of Korea cannot make a forward step toward democracy without ditching the doomed specter of welfare populism.
The mayor said that of late, such countries as Greece, Italy and Japan all have suffered hardships because they cannot readjust the welfare system, which was set in motion when they had enough money to maneuver -- not making hay while the sun was shining. He made it clear that the nation should tighten the screws so as not to splurge on welfare in order to brace for possible hard times ahead.
He said the reality of the current economy is that the global economic crisis has made the poor suffer more hardships due to the increasing bipolarization of wealth, and whether the nation can make a forward step toward becoming an advanced power or it ends up like the doomed Greece will depend on the upcoming referendum.
The mayor got a boost as the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) decided to back his referendum to oppose free meals at a party officeholders'meeting on July 15.
The GNP had showed a lukewarm attitude toward the issue, saying that it had nothing to do with the party's central headquarters, but it was up to the party's Seoul branch.
The mayor, who has worried about a possible failure to meet the quorum at the referendum, appears in a position to muster support from the headquarters of the ruling party like a white knight's in his bid to gain more maneuvering power in his political career, political analysts said. Oh found an ally in the GNP in his crusade to fight off a storm of free meals and welfare populism by opposition parties, soliciting more votes ahead of the elections.
The GNP's turnaround to support toward Mayor Oh's bid may indicate the probability that the party could not only make it clear that it opposes welfare populism even for the well-to-do, but it could also solidify his power base within the ruling party.
In this regard, Seoul City Government spokesman Lee Jong-hyun said the GNP's active support amounted to sending a warning message against splurging on welfare and awakening to the importance of sustainable welfare.
Mayor Oh has not yet announced his bid to run in the upcoming presidential election, but he is one of the hopefuls. Public polls show that the underdog Oh is a far cry from front-runner Park Keun-hye in the ruling party's nomination race, so he needs to conduct a risky political gambit to turn the tide. nw

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon

Photo on Courtesy of Seoul City

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