[VIEWPOINT]Take baby steps toward revisions

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[VIEWPOINT]Take baby steps toward revisions

The constitution is not just another law. It is the supreme law of the country, defining the fundamental principles of the state system.
It should be distinguished from other laws, which can be revised in order to accommodate changing public opinions and circumstances.
We should take a far more prudent approach to revising the constitution than any other law.
The recent discussions about revising the constitution worry me. I am skeptical whether that is prudent, whether a cautious discussion is possible and, if so, whether the substantial characteristics of the constitution will be taken into account.
Countless arguments to revise the constitution have emerged and subsided since the current constitution was created in 1987.
However, impromptu inspiration, short-sighted opportunism, factional interests and political motivation can make appropriate discussion impossible.
Am I too cowardly to think that the discussion of a constitutional revision will only aggravate social discord and that we are better off not talking about it at all?
Of course, I do not want to deny the sincerity of those who say there is a need for revision.
Let’s put aside the criticism that the political party that doesn’t believe it can win the next presidential election wants to use a constitutional revision as a trick to maintain power.
We cannot find solid evidence to support that, other than a general impression.
Especially, we cannot doubt the sincerity of the scholars who are seriously researching constitutional revision plans.
If we say that every assertion to revise the constitution is a political conspiracy, then such a move will be seen as an open invitation to a counterattack by people who say that the aim is to hold political power, no matter what.
However, even if we embrace the sincerity of a constitutional revision, today’s discussion reveals fundamental problems. People who champion a constitutional revision tend to think of it as being as easy as revising other lower level laws.
The constitution contains rules and regulations about things such as basic rights, even though it embraces a comparative value system as well. Therefore, it is not something that can be easily revised by a majority of legislators, as they do with other laws.
Because we are talking about revising fundamental principles that transcend ever-changing situations, we must be prepared for a lengthy and sufficient discussion.
The Republic of South Africa took its time and underwent a multi-stage discussion from 1989 to 1997 to write a new constitution that does not allow racial discrimination.
South Africa is considered a model for the successful revision of the constitution.
How many Korean scholars advocating a constitutional revision have a years-long discussion process in mind? They might be attracted to an engineering mindset that even the constitution can be repaired easily, just like some handcrafted piece.
It is hypocritical to rush the discussion for a constitutional revision while criticizing the existing one as being written too hastily in 1987.
Because the constitution is the supreme law, a consensus must be reached after sufficiently gathering opinions from each corner of society. In today’s Korean society, however, consensus for a revision of the constitution, which requires a 2/3 majority of National Assembly, seems a distant goal.
Not just in the power structure, but also regarding the identity of the state and the territorial issues, it is very unlikely that Koreans can reach a smooth agreement on whether to make a revision, much less than on the direction it will take.
At this juncture, the chances are that a discussion for a constitutional revision will amplify discord among political parties, social classes and ideological groups. It is possible that it could lead to a top-down mobilization by the political elites and a consequent political contest, rather than a harmonious participation of the majority of citizens. If it is truly necessary, the constitution can be revised.
If calling the real estate policy “harder to change than the constitution,” as a top aide to President Roh has said, trivializes the constitution as just a general law, describing the constitution as “permanent and immutable” also ignores the nature of human society.
Nevertheless, we should proceed with the discussion for a constitutional revision with extra caution. A hasty discussion might aggravate political chaos and jeopardize social integration. Any constitutional revision option has merits and demerits, and there is no way to say for certain that a new one will be better than the current one.
Before depending on superficial observations and subjective impressions and weighing different options, we should calmly study whether the given social conditions can accommodate a successful discussion about revising the constitution.

* The writer is a professor of political science at Kyung Hee University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lim Seong-ho
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