[Outlook]Constitutional compromise

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[Outlook]Constitutional compromise

I have a confession to make. For the past several years, I have believed that the Constitution should be revised to allow the president to be re-elected.

In academic journals and media outlets, I have maintained that since the democratization of Korea, the political system has continuously grown in representativeness, but the administration’s ability to govern has gradually weakened.

Thus, I believe we need to adopt the U.S. presidential system, a classic model, in order to enhance the government’s responsibility and competence in running the country. It would be impossible to deny the fact that earning my last degree in the United States has had an influence on my viewpoint.

However, these days I am having second thoughts. Giving the president a chance to be re-elected is too simple a goal for a constitutional revision. Our aim must instead be to revise the Constitution so that the administration has the capacity to carry out its responsibilities in governing the nation.

But as has been revealed through these past months of ongoing candlelight vigils, our society today is deeply divided.

Around half of the citizens believe it is time to wrap up the protests and reasonably prepare follow-up measures to address disputes over U.S. beef imports.

Meanwhile, the other half believes that the demonstrations must continue up until the point at which the president waves a white flag.

In other words, our society isn’t coming to a consensus on a diagnosis of reality or on a vision for the future. Looking at the confusion in the early period of the Lee Myung-bak administration, some maintain that restoring the integrity of the president’s rule is an urgent task.

Others argue that the problem is the president’s stubbornness in not responding to voter demands.

From the first group’s perspective, a system that allows the president to serve two terms in a row is a good alternative. But from the point of view of the latter group, the parliamentary system is more desirable.

Considering the pronounced divisions in our society, discussions about the constitutional amendment should start with the principle of balance.

A compromise must be reached from a variety of differing values and goals. With the revision, we need to find a harmony between the governmental’s stability and its representativeness, and strike a new balance between the political system’s responses to situations and its effectiveness.

The five-year, single-term presidency has been employed for the past 20 years. The system was originally introduced as the result of an important compromise. It melded the goal to rid the country of the president’s oppressive, authoritarian rule, and the people’s wish to be able to elect the president of the country by direct voting.

How the topic is approached is another important factor in coming to a consensus on the constitutional revision.

Once Pandora’s box is open, a variety of forces and voices will plunge into the discussion. Not only lawmakers, but also civic organizations ? both conservative and liberal ? scholars and citizens will pour their expectations and hopes into the public arena.

The vast new agora of discussion should be open to anybody, but at the same time there should be a center towards which all of the different voices and energy can converge.

The National Assembly is the appropriate institution to take on this central role in the discussion. National Assemblies of the past were suppressed by the president’s power in the early phase of the president’s term and thus were unable to take part in discussions about the amendment.

In the latter phase of the president’s term, candidates for the next presidency had so much power that the National Assembly couldn’t concentrate on the topic. In the incumbent 18th National Assembly, however, a chance to discuss the revision of the Constitution has naturally arisen in the early period of the term.

The National Assembly must form a council to look into the amendment. The council must be open to all, not just lawmakers. It should consist not only of people from the ruling and opposition parties, but also representatives of different sectors of society and neutral experts. The council should take a central role in the diverse discussions on the constitutional revision issue, both in person and on the Internet. Then, based on those discussions, it should propose a bill for the revision of the Constitution to the National Assembly.

The debate shouldn’t begin simply by attempting to choose between a two-term presidency and a parliamentary system.

The revision should be handled with a view to our future, with the aim of resolving conflicts between different values, striking a balance among different forces, and evaluating ourselves based on the experience of the past 20 years.

Only then can the discussion produce a new, forward-looking compromise, instead of dividing our society even further.


*The writer is a professor of political science at Chung-Ang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Jaung Hoon
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