Reshaping the constitutionPresident Lee Myung-bak addressed the need to overhaul the electoral system, certain administrative units and the constitution during his speech to mark Liberation Day on Aug. 15.
It was a well-timed move. Massive financial and political resources have been wasted in the past on the bevy of presidential elections, nationwide general elections and provincial and county-level elections held in Korea.
One possible constitutional amendment includes reducing the number of elections. But in order to address the need for a constitutional amendment, the president should adopt a more drastic and direct approach that will be immediately felt by ordinary Koreans.
We have long urged the president and political leaders to take bolder actions to amend the constitution. Some observers have expressed caution on this matter, saying the president will be trapped once the debates over a constitutional amendment begin.
But a constitutional amendment involves changing the very pillar of our democracy and should be implemented regardless of the president’s day-to-day operations and governance. The president and political leaders should first set an overall framework for a constitutional amendment and then start working on electoral changes and on overhauling administrative units.
The issue of a constitutional amendment aside, overhauling the electoral system and administrative units has long been left unsolved because so many political interests are involved in the issue.
The current single-winner system for each district, along with the current constitution, was created in 1987. The system helped create the nation’s current political landscape, where one political party ends up sweeping up most of the seats in a certain region.
A possible alternative to improve the situation is to implement a system where more than one person wins. In other words, there would be two to five elected representatives from each district.
But it would take a lot of work to convince the current political players to give up some of the privileges they have enjoyed for decades. And fears run high among Grand National lawmakers that their party would secure fewer seats in its political strongholds if such changes were introduced.
But time is running out. With inefficient and ineffective administrative units and longtime political animosity between the Gyeongsang and Jeolla provinces, Korea can never become an advanced nation.
In his speech last Saturday, Lee stressed that constitutional change and an electoral system overhaul are critical tasks, adding that “the ruling party should even take some risks and possible losses.”
He is right. But doing so requires very drastic measures and serious thought from political representatives, public servants and voters alike.