[OUTLOOK]Time to debate Constitution

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[OUTLOOK]Time to debate Constitution

A public debate on whether to amend the constitution has begun anew.
While we have succeeded in democratization, we have failed to institutionalize the politics of responsibility.
When the president, who was elected as the Millennium Democratic Party candidate, severed ties with the MDP and established a new party, the public were at a loss as to whom they could charge the political responsibility of running this country.
Now the strife between the president and the governing party over the amendment of the private school law makes the situation more complicated for the ordinary public to identify who on earth is in charge of political responsibility for the people.
Thus, it is only natural that people discuss a constitutional amendment to place our politics, which have clearly revealed their limits, on the right track.
Nevertheless, until recently, a theory of postponing debate on a constitutional amendment until an appropriate time prevailed.
That was because the public knows all too well that the debate will inevitably lead to partisan parochialism if it breaks out at the time when we await a presidential election which will be held in 19 months.
However, a rising consciousness of the crisis of inefficiency of the government and the present state of ambiguity in democratic representation and responsibility has given fresh momentum to the debate.
Lately, there has been a string of seminars and meetings hosted by the Kwanhoon Club, Korean Political Science Association and Daehwa Academy on this issue, signaling that there is indeed a growing interest in the matter.
Unlike the discussions on constitutional amendments in 1980 and 1987, the ideological debate over what constitutes democracy is no longer of consequence.
While we should one day review articles on reunification, national territory and national economy, these are not urgent issues directly related to the efficient management of government or social integration.
Therefore, the focus of discussion is inevitably on issues of the power structure, that is, on how to supplement and reform our presidential system.
As British scholar Harold Laski once pointed out, the United States president has a duality of filling both the king’s role in a monarchy and the prime minister’s role in a parliamentary system.
The president is a supra-partisan figure that must represent the state and unite the people. At the same time, he or she must command the ruling party in political competition with the opposition.
This goes for our presidency as well. If the president concentrates only on his job as head of the state, he or she will weaken his or her democratic representation of the public in relation to his or her party.
If, however, he or she only sides with the ruling party against the opposition, he or she will bring disruption rather than integration.
While we can discuss a transition to a parliamentary system or a bicameral system to solve this dilemma, our history tells us that in our particular case, the presidential system is a better guarantee of political stability.
Even while criticizing the irresponsibility of our political parties, public sentiment remains dubious of a parliamentary system in which parties would have more responsibilities.
To enable this, what procedures must be followed in amending our constitution for the institutional development of our democratic politics?
Firstly, because the presidential term and the 17th General Assembly term coincidentally both end in the spring of 2008, this would be an appropriate time to synchronize the presidential and general elections.
Therefore, we can solve this issue by amending the constitutional article on the presidential term to a four-year single term within a comparatively short period.
Next, we should designate the 18th National Assembly to be in charge of the constitutional amendment and let the voters make their choice in April 2008, based on the campaign promises candidates make on constitutional amendment.
The Assembly members would be voted for on how carefully they scrutinize the existing constitution and implement the amendment process.
After the 18th Assembly completes the amendment with public support, we will be able to more efficiently manage an advanced democratic country based on the newly supplemented and revised constitution.
Both the ruling and the opposition parties are expected to sincerely review this idea of a two-step constitutional amendment and make a forward-looking decision.

* The writer, a former prime minister, is an advisor to the JoongAng Ilbo. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hong-koo
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