[OUTLOOK]Amendment idea misses the mark

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[OUTLOOK]Amendment idea misses the mark

The three opposition parties appear to have successfully blocked a Constitutional amendment allowing a two-term presidency, as suggested by the Blue House. Major dailies also seem relieved to see that the public still doesn’t like the idea.
However, that has not stopped President Roh Moo-hyun. When the president held a press conference last week, I got the impression that he would push for the amendment no matter what. Then the Blue House asked for a time-out, just like a losing team in the middle of a game.
Opponents of the amendment are relieved for two reasons. First, people are suspicious of the Blue House’s intentions.
Second, the bill will fail to attract a quorum of lawmakers to vote on the issue. However, these factors are not unsurpassable obstacles for President Roh, who wants to turn the political situation upside down.
As he said in the press conference, he is preparing to push for something that even he knows will be impossible, a unique characteristic of the president.
If he had such an amendment in mind, the issue should have been debated in the early 17th National Assembly and a timetable should have been produced.
People are asking “Why a four-year presidency with the possibility of being reelected, and why now?” People wanted the president to drive safely, not recklessly. The public feels the president is now wailing after having lost almost all of his supporters.
The public admits that a five-year single-term presidency worked for the country’s democratization, but now the system has lost its effectiveness.
However, the governing party being outnumbered in the parliament is not the main problem, as President Roh complained. This was only a decent tool to keep the almighty president in check.
A more serious problem is that a major battle occurs every five years, and every time, political parties change their shapes. The public has to hold its breath until the battle is over. That is the structure of Korea’s politics.
Even if that does hinder Korea’s society and economy, an amendment to change the presidency is not the solution.
Let’s go back in time. Since 1987, there have been four presidential elections, thus four power shifts. Let’s say it takes one year for politicians to set up for the election and run for the presidency.
For each administration, the first several months are spent adjusting the system. All in all, about five years out of 20 have been spent on the transition of power. That is precious time. The subsequent confusion and conflicts of interest damaged society. As power weakens at the end of the tenure, economic losses occur. The whole nation pays the price as to adapt to a new style of leadership.
The insecurity in parties is even more serious. Three years ago, the Uri Party proclaimed that it would create a party lasting 100 years. Now, it is on the verge of being split or forming a new party.
Under a single-term presidency, the ruling party has to share the responsibility for lower approval ratings and misrule with the president. Although it might be less serious, that’s the same as a four-year two-term presidency.
At the end of the term, the governing party will inevitably face the same fate. For the last 20 years, no single governing party remained the same as the presidential election drew near.
Solving all these problems means going through chaos. We could abandon our presidential system, or we could debate a parliamentary system. Under a parliamentary system, there is no need for presidential candidates to have fierce fights. Politicians, government officials and other people do not need to support certain candidates for their self-interest. Political parties will not be changed as often as they are now. Political parties representing certain regions, certain social classes or certain generations will compete inside parliament. If they are weak, they could form a coalition government.
There is no chance for an unknown person to be elected or employed for a high position. Whoever may assume power, many things become more predictable.
But now is not the time. There is neither a blanket plan nor a detailed map. As the proposal for a two-term presidency came out of the blue, the whole country responded in chaos. As the presidential term is nearing its end, the president has more than enough to solve. I wonder if he has time and energy to assume the special right to propose a Constitutional revision.

*The writer is a professor of sociology at Seoul National University. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Song Ho-keun
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