News24

Korean politics: It's all about lunch

2011-08-12 14:00

Seoul - There's no such thing as a free lunch. That's the message from South Korea's president to residents of the capital Seoul where the midday meal has become a hot political issue.

Seoulites will vote on August 24 on whether to provide all children with a free lunch at school, in what on the surface appears to be minor affair but has been front page news for months in one of the world's largest cities.

Last December, emotions even spilled over at a city council meeting with politicians brawling over the affair.

President Lee Myung-bak has endorsed his ruling party's stance that a free lunch is a cost the state cannot afford to bear, and points to the debt crisis in Europe as an example of the fiscal strain caused by excessive welfare spending.

Lee has criticised politicians for proposing costly populist policies to win votes ahead of next year's general elections as opinion polls show the two main parties running neck and neck.

The two main political parties have clashed repeatedly over the issue, and the city's conservative and ambitious mayor, Oh Se-hoon, has staked his political reputation on the vote.

The telegenic Oh on Friday ruled out a possible run for the presidency next year, clearing the path for the Park Guen-hye to win the GNP's nomination.

Opinion polls show that Park, the daughter of former military strongman turned dictator, Chung-hee, is the clear favourite to win the 2012 presidential vote.

As well as pork-barrel politics, the main issues in next April's parliamentary election are likely to be job creation, inflation and the growing wealth divide.