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GNP in dilemma over when Oh should step down

Seoul mayor expected to announce position by Friday at the latest

The ruling Grand National Party on Thursday struggled to agree on when Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon should resign, a day after the city’s referendum on free school meals was invalidated due to low turnout.

Having vowed to quit if the referendum attracted less than 33.3 percent of eligible voters, Oh plans to announce the timing of his resignation no later than Friday.

“Mayor Oh plans to speak about his position by Friday at the latest after consultations with GNP lawmakers,” Seoul City spokesman Lee Jong-hyun said.
Oh Se-hoon
Oh Se-hoon

All eyes are on when he will step down as it will determine the date of a mayoral by-election ― Oct. 26 or April 11 ― holding sway over politicians in their run-up to the 2011 general and presidential elections.

Oh is inclined towards an immediate resignation, which would add weight to his resolute defiance of “welfare populism,” but jeopardize his pet projects dubbed the “West Sea Waterway” and the “Han River Renaissance.” Oh’s campaign pledge to develop a 15-kilometer waterway linking downtown Seoul to the western port city of Incheon has been another key point of dispute, in addition to whether Seoul City should finance meals for all elementary school students next year, in his year-long fight with the Democrat-heavy city council.

In a meeting with the GNP leadership, including chairman Hong Joon-pyo Wednesday night, Oh reportedly said he wished to step down immediately.

The GNP leadership and the presidential office, however, generally want Oh to hold onto his job until after Sept. 30 so that the by-election will be held next April, hoping to buy time for the impact of Wednesday’s referendum to fade out.

There are some legislators within the GNP, however, who call for an October by-election, saying that appearing to be resorting to shallow political schemes would further alienate voters from the ruling party.

In a meeting of the GNP’s decision-making supreme council Thursday, floor leader Hwang Woo-yea opposed holding the mayoral by-election in October, citing a possible hindrance to the regular National Assembly next month. But several supreme council members insisted Oh could not quit that soon.

Hong is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting with local heads of GNP members in Seoul and a meeting of the party’s decision-making supreme council members Friday to discuss the timing of Oh’s resignation.

Opposition politicians are urging Oh to step down immediately as the GNP’s Aug. 24 defeat offered momentum for them to push ahead with their offensive and raised their chances of gaining an upper hand in the coming elections.

By Kim So-hyun (