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Moon to submit constitutional reform bill on March 26

Mar 20,2018
President Moon Jae-in plans to submit a bill to the National Assembly on March 26 to amend the country’s constitution, the Blue House said Monday.

The amendments would grant more autonomy to local governments and introduce new term limits for the presidency. Moon plans to submit the bill on next Monday, which would give lawmakers enough time to review the amendments before throwing them to a national referendum during Election Day on June 13.

Jin Sung-joon, the president’s secretary for political affairs, said Moon’s office plans to publicize the bill’s contents across three days starting today. The first part of the text, to be revealed today, will be the preamble and basic rights.

The second part, to be made public on Wednesday, will outline powers for local governments and popular sovereignty, Jin said. The final part of the text, to come Thursday, will deal with presidential term limits.

“Moon ordered his aides to make perfect preparations to submit the bill on March 26,” Jin said. “We want to give one last chance to the National Assembly to agree on its own bill while respecting the process and timeline to make the changes stipulated under the Constitution and relevant laws.”

According to Jin, Moon originally considered submitting the bill before he departs for an overseas trip on Thursday. However, he pushed the date at the request of ruling party lawmakers, who wanted to guarantee the legislature a 60-day review period mandated by law before the elections in June.

Constitutional amendments can be proposed by the president or a majority of the National Assembly and must be made public for at least 20 days. The National Assembly must vote on the amendments within 60 days of the public announcement. Passage requires support from at least two-thirds of the legislature. A national referendum must take place within 30 days after that, with the date of the vote announced at least 18 days in advance. Majority support from the country’s citizens finalizes the amendment, and the changes take effect immediately.

“Even if the introduction of the bill, public announcement, legislative vote and announcement of the referendum date all take place at the same time, we need at least 78 days,” said a senior presidential aide who wished to remain unnamed. “March 26 is the ultimate deadline to hold the referendum on June 13.”

March 26 would fall during Moon’s overseas trip to Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates. The Blue House plans to hold a cabinet meeting led by Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon on March 26 to approve the bill and have Moon sign it through an electronic approval system.

The senior aide reiterated that Moon would respect the National Assembly’s wish to introduce its own amendment bill in time to hold a referendum on June 13. Moon will not submit his bill on March 26 if the legislature acts before that date, the aide said.

The president is also willing to recant his bill, even after it is submitted, if the National Assembly submits its own bill in time for a referendum on June 13. Opposition parties, particularly the largest conservative party, the Liberty Korea Party, have opposed Moon’s plan.

“Whether the president’s bill is submitted on March 21 or 26, the truth of the state-controlled constitutional amendment remains unchanged,” Rep. Kim Sung-tae, floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party, said. “This clearly shows how the Moon administration is making light of the constitutional amendment issue. Changing the Constitution is not a joke.”

The Liberty Korea Party’s support will be crucial for Moon to pass his bill with a two-thirds majority because all opposition parties, including progressive ones like the Justice Party, have voiced objections to the president’s initiative.

Moon’s party, the Democratic Party, controls 121 seats, about 41.3 percent, while the Liberty Korea Party holds 116 seats, about 39.6 percent.

“We will do everything to persuade the opposition,” the senior aide said, adding that Moon may go to the National Assembly and make a speech in April.

He also defended the constitutional right of the president to propose an amendment. “The president’s submission of his amendment bill will not automatically kill the National Assembly’s discussion,” he said, “so there should be no reason for lawmakers to protest his initiative.”

The aide added that strong public demand drove Moon’s decision to submit an amendment bill despite lawmakers’ resistance. “We believed that the public overwhelmingly supports the idea of holding a referendum on the day of local elections,” the aide said. Koreans want a new type of presidential system to replace the current five-year, single-term presidency, the aide said, quoting various surveys and a recent report by a special advisory committee on constitutional reform.

Last week, the committee recommended a four-year term with the possibility of re-election for a second consecutive term, similar to presidential terms in the United States. Moon spoke favorably of it.

The contents of the bill, including the new presidential system, will be made public this week by Cho Kuk, the president’s senior secretary for civil affairs. “We decided to make a series of announcements because there are many proposed changes and making it public at once will hinder public understanding,” the source in the Blue House said.

Moon initially planned to submit his bill to the National Assembly on Wednesday, but the floor leader of his party requested a delay. On Sunday, Rep. Woo Won-shik of the Democratic Party held an urgent press conference and requested Moon submit the bill on March 26.

With Moon’s acceptance, the ruling party secured one additional week to persuade opposition parties on creating the National Assembly’s own amendment bill.

A negotiation took place on Monday following the Blue House announcement, but no progress was made, according to lawmakers in the room. National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun attended the meeting with floor leaders of the three major parties. “If the legislature creates a bill, we can probably ask the president and the people to adjust the timeline,” Chung said.

Woo asked his counterparts in the opposition parties to discuss an amendment, but the floor leaders of the Liberty Korea Party and moderate Bareun Mirae Party did not budge. “The key to the amendment is decentralizing the power of the imperial presidential system,” Representative Kim, floor leader of the Liberty Korea Party, said. “But the president’s proposal is seeking a four-year presidency with a possibility of re-election, indicating that he has no intention to do so.”

The Liberty Korea Party has been pushing for a semi-presidential system similar to that in France where the president and prime minister split their powers.

Rep. Kim Dong-cheol, floor leader of the Bareun Mirae Party, also said introducing a new governing system other than a presidential system should be the main change in the constitutional amendment.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]


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