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Petition to block free school meals starts

Conservative civic groups will start a signature-gathering campaign Wednesday, and aim to have a plebiscite vote on the controversial free school meals at schools issue, Seoul city officials said Tuesday.

The Commission for Anti-Welfare Populism, an association of some 160 conservative civic groups, filed a petition Tuesday ahead of collecting signatures from Seoul citizens.

Despite Seoul City Council’s decision last year to provide free lunches at schools, Mayor Oh Se-hoon and the city government have opposed the plan, pledging all-out efforts to block it.

The signature campaign is to start Wednesday as soon as the city officially announces the plebiscite vote. Signature collecting is to continue over the coming 180 days.

Public officials, including lawmakers, are banned from participating in any campaign activities other than casting their own ballot.

If the campaign is supported by more than 5 percent of Seoul voters, or 418,000 citizens, the city can hold the vote without the city council’s approval as early as August.

City officials expect that the plebiscite vote would cost 13 to 15 billion won (or $11.7 to 13.5 million) to hold.

The city’s renewed move came after Oh, the mayor, had refused to show up to future sessions of the city council until it withdraws the free school meal plan.

Since the June election, in which the majority of council members were elected from the opposition camp, the council and Oh has been at odds on some controversial issues.

Last week, Seoul Metropolitan Education, led by liberal superintendent Kwak Noh-hyun, said it will push ahead with its plan to provide free lunches to first to fourth graders at public elementary schools in the capital from March.

By Lee Ji-yoon (
Korea Herald Youtube