[Outlook]Revise the ConstitutionLooking at the two weeks preceding the inauguration of the 18th president, it is apparent that our society wholeheartedly celebrates the emergence of our nation’s new leader. Korea has made huge strides in industrialization and political democratization. In addition, political power has been turned over in a peaceful manner, based on the free choice of the people.
In this case, power has been transferred between the ruling and opposition parties. It is, therefore, natural for Koreans to feel pride in being citizens of a democratic nation. However, we should be wise enough to thoroughly look back at the past and note the current status of the democratic system on the 60th anniversary of the founding of the republic.
The national mood expressed during the presidential election held two months ago was mainly focused on political figures and ideologies. Disappointed by a certain political leader, people spared no effort to find a leader who could help guide the nation into a new era. Long plagued by excessive debate on ideology, a pragmatic attitude that reached beyond old ideological formulas fascinated the public.
However, overcoming the limitations rooted in an unreliable political system is not as easy as simply changing presidents. On the one hand, excessive ideological debates and doctrines pose a threat to the nation. On the other hand, we should not overlook the principle that real politics cannot work in an ideological vacuum.
What systematically limits Korea’s democratic politics? How can we conduct a related debate that focuses on the Constitution? It is high time for us to organize our ideas in a constructive manner now that a new government is on the brink of being inaugurated.
Despite its successful democratization, Korean politics receives relatively low marks in terms of institutionalization. When we evaluate the current status of Korean politics on the following three criteria -- standardization, responsibility and efficiency ― the results seem disappointing.
Korea’s legislative and political party systems, core elements of representation designed to secure the people’s political participation, are inadequate from a political science perspective. People’s distrust has already reached dangerously high levels. They no longer respect or trust National Assemblymen, even though the people choose them freely. Now, they don’t even seem to have any concern about whose interests and rights they represent, or how they do so.
The ruling party has been in chaos over the past few years, which represents the desperation of a Korean political party system at the end of its tether. Meanwhile, the “presidential irresponsibility” system is a prime indication that Korean politics is essentially responsible for nothing in our society.
Additionally, the productivity and efficiency of Korean politics also receives a poor evaluation from this perspective.
Such limitations of Korean democratic politics can be explained by considering the specifics of the nation’s political history, political culture and political environment.
However, the limits of Korean democracy should also be thoroughly re-examined from a constitutional perspective. This year marks the 60th anniversary of Korea’s founding and the enactment of its Constitution. Korea’s Constitution has undergone numerous periods of political turbulence and serves as a mirror to reflect on our modern history .
Whenever we underwent political twists and turns there were changes made, such as amendments 4.19, 5.16 and 5.18 to the Constitution. The current Constitution is also the offspring of the political strife of June 1987 that led to democratization.
As we look back on the past, a series of debates that led to constitutional revisions were the result of emergencies caused by intense political conflict. Proposals made by the president or some politicians often disappeared without yielding any tangible results due to inadequate timing and unreasonable intentions in the heat of the moment.
Now, we have some time to spare to systematically address our efforts to further promote the normal development and institutionalization of Korea’s democratic politics. Now is the time to overcome our limitations, revise the charter and make every effort to overhaul the constitutional system.
I sincerely hope that President-elect Lee Myung-bak will launch a presidential committee aimed at researching the constitutional system after he takes office as our new president. I expect him to present the necessity and validity of constitutional revision and offer alternatives to the Korean people. I believe that this will serve as a substantial motive to bolster political development.
I also understand that opposition leader Sohn Hak-kyu will be actively engaged in such a constructive task.
Meanwhile, I expect that the preliminary special committee on the Constitution will operate out of the National Assembly, because the people will still have to make decisions based on collaboration between the ruling and opposition parties after the April general election.
*The writer, a former prime minister, is an adviser to the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hong-koo