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Seoul mayor drops presidential bid

Oh plans to focus on free-lunch referendum, says won’t link outcome to his mayoral position

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon said Friday that he would not run in next year’s presidential election regardless of the outcome of the upcoming referendum on free school lunches.

His move dismissed opponents’ claims that he is using the vote to raise his profile for the 2012 presidential race.

But Oh didn’t make it clear whether he would step down from the mayoral position if the free school meal plan he opposes passes the vote. He previously hinted that he may throw his mayorship on the line for the free school meal referendum.

“As the Aug. 24 plebiscite is not my personal affair, but a matter that will affect the future of our country, it is more important than anything,” Oh said.

“From some point, the speculations about my future political path began to hurt the meaning of the plebiscite and my sincere intention, so I decided to clear my stance on running for the presidential election to eliminate any misunderstandings (surrounding the Aug. 24 referendum),” Oh said at a press conference. 
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks on the free school lunch referendum at a press conference Friday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon speaks on the free school lunch referendum at a press conference Friday. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)

He said he couldn’t put his mayoral position at stake because of the expectations of the electorate, and the need to discuss the matter with the Grand National Party.

“I couldn’t decide whether I should resign from the post because of the Seoul citizens who voted for me in last year’s local election,” Oh said.

“This is the biggest reason I cannot link my mayoral position to the results of the referendum.

“Announcing a decision not to run for the presidential election can be made by myself as it is related to my personal political career, but stepping down from the mayoral position has to be discussed with the GNP and its Seoul councilors.”

Political analysts see Oh’s announcement as a way to confront opposition parties’ anti-vote campaign, which have labeled the referendum as a means to boost his presidential race and to rally support for his “sustainable welfare” policy from citizens concerned by the cost of recent damage from heavy rainfall and the financial crisis.

Oh has advocated a selective welfare ideology which includes providing free lunches to children most in need, denouncing populist policies of opposition parties.

The opposition party called Oh’s announcement Friday “another political show,” and urged him to clarify the future of his mayoral position in a statement issued immediately after his press conference.

The plebiscite will be conducted on Aug. 24, and those who can’t vote on the day can register for an absentee ballot. The city government said recently that those registered for voting by absentee ballot have exceeded over 102,000.

Oh also said in a recent interview that the figure was an encouraging sign for the referendum.

President Lee Myung-bak is also expected to cast an absentee ballot, his spokesman said Friday.

“The president will take part in the vote as a citizen,” the spokesman said.

Lee has expressed concerns over populist welfare policies that he said politicians proposed to attract votes for next year’s election.

By Lee Woo-young (
Korea Herald Youtube