Mapping out a master plan

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Mapping out a master plan

The state funeral for late former President Kim Dae-jung is over, and the regular session of the National Assembly is slated to start on Tuesday.

President Lee Myung-bak is planning to reshuffle both his cabinet and the Blue House early next week. As the season changes from summer to fall, the Lee administration will enter its midterm period. In his commemorative address earlier this month on Liberation Day, Lee mentioned constitutional reforms and the necessity of restructuring electoral and administrative districts. These issues have emerged as the keys to remodeling the national framework, and they carry serious implications for Korea’s future. That is why there must be a master plan and a precise road map for execution.

The Council on Constitutional Research, under the auspices of the National Assembly speaker, is poised to issue its final report. It will be the first concrete proposal for constitutional reforms under the current administration. But it remains to be seen if political parties will form a special committee to pursue reforms based on the report. No party has expressed a clear platform on constitutional reforms.

At the center of the electoral district reforms is the possibility of changing the single-member district electoral system to a multi-member system or to proportional representation, so as to alleviate regionalism. This issue has been discussed among politicians from all circles, but there’s no clear picture on where it will go. The response from the ruling Grand National Party - apparently afraid of losing its benefits under the current structure - has been mostly lukewarm.

The National Assembly operates a special committee on the reorganization of administrative districts, but it has done next to nothing. Word on the political street is that such restructuring would be difficult before the regional elections next June. The government and the GNP have discussed the possibility of aiding districts that volunteer to integrate and merge. This may be the best alternative, but we’re concerned that such partial discussions would take away most of the impetus behind efforts to overhaul administrative districts nationwide.

Following Kim’s death, the nation has been moving toward “integration” in the hopes of eliminating regional and political differences. This shift in mood is favorable to refurbishing the national framework for development. The president must take the central role in this restructuring. The most efficient course of action would be for the president to sit down with leaders of the ruling and opposition parties to draw the big picture and then for the government and the National Assembly to pursue the project quickly and precisely. Legislators and political sections, concerned about their own interests, are inclined to take a myopic view. Without some prodding from outside or a driving force, this kind of work will not get off the ground. The president and the party leadership must showcase their vision, taking the long-term view on national interests.
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