Against the backdrop of a pile of boxes containing 800,000 signatures which he had solicited, the mayor promised a large crowd that he would put an end to the "flood of populist pledges" in politics. The signatures call for a referendum on free lunches for all elementary and middle school students. If the referendum is held, popular opinion will decide whether to stop providing food to children.
The mayor has criticized the existing food policy, which was enacted by the left-leaning Seoul Metropolitan Council in December last year, as 'pandering to populism'. Since then, he has demonstrated his antipopulist credentials by refusing to participate in the democratic process, boycotting council meetings for half-a-year, while still drawing his salary.
At a time when Seoul is struggling with revelations that most of its public buildings and infrastructure could not withstand even a minor earthquake, some have accused the mayor of turning a relatively minor but more easily solved educational issue into an invented headline conflict to further his presidential ambitions, but he angrily rejected this as a 'typical populist accusation' which assumed he had any interest in such progressive democratic ideas as running for elected office. However, one Democratic Party councilor appeared to be vying for the title of 'antipopulism warrior' himself, by suggesting his party and its supporters should boycott the referendum in order to ensure a low turnout, rendering it invalid. The referendum requires at least one third of eligible voters in Seoul cast ballots on the issue.
The 'antipopulism warrior' Mayor of Seoul has fought a long battle against the forces of populism. During his military service, he saw action on the front lines of RoK Military Headquarters' corridors as part of the Army Defense Security Command, the primary organization - under the then military government - charged with internal security, the preservation of loyalty to the regime, and the deterrence and investigation of subversion.
Unfortunately, the mayor's service record with all details of his actions during that period were lost during the Democratic Uprising, probably due to subversion by subversive and progressive forces. But former internal security colleagues - speaking on condition of anonymity - have spoken highly of his commitment to suppressing all forms of populism during the period. After his military service, the mayor further cemented his antipopulist credentials by becoming a lawyer. In 2000 he was elected to the National Assembly, but gave up his seat in 2004 in what he said was a bid to "clean up politics". He was elected Mayor of Seoul in 2006, and re-elected last year.
If the mayor wins the referendum he has promised to push forward with further anti-populist measures, including pursuing action against those who participated in it.
Seoul mayor casting himself as ‘antipopulism warrior’
Defense Security Command
‘Mad about Seoul,’ mayor not thinking of presidential run
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