Moving forward on reform

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Moving forward on reform

President Lee Myung-bak reaffirmed his determination to amend the Constitution in a recent interview with Yonhap News Agency. He aims to end the chronic regional divisions that have long plagued the nation through the constitutional reforms outlined in his Aug. 15 Liberation Day address.

His proposal for constitutional reform involves restructuring the presidential-parliamentary structure and redrawing administrative districts and electorates.

Most agree that we have outgrown our 22-year-old constitutional structure. The Constitution was written as the foundation for the transition from military rule to a democratic society. It was the result of a compromise between President Roh Tae-woo, the descendant of the legacy of military power in this country, and the opposition, which included Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung.

As the democracy matured, various problems surfaced regarding the differences in the terms of the president and lawmakers, the overpowering role of the president and the repeated regional clashes that arose during elections.

The current direction of constitutional reform ?? toward changing the single five-year presidential term ?? has been established after a long period of debate.

Former President Roh Moo-hyun tried to get things started by attempting to shift the power structure toward the end of his term.

Under the current administration, National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o last month unveiled a report on amending the Constitution that was completed after a yearlong study by an advisory board.

The prospects for reform remain bleak, however, due to the lukewarm response from and involvement of the Assembly.

The Democratic Party, which rallied behind the idea of constitutional reform while in power during the previous administration, now wants to delay reform efforts until next year’s local elections, because it is worried about politicizing the reform process.

However, the general elections are slated for the following year. It is unlikely any lawmakers will be able to focus on the matter ahead of their election campaigns.

Moreover, redrawing administrative districts after the local elections are over does not make sense. Party members with strong bases in the southeast will not be open to a new system. They generally prefer to look away when their president pleads for “a little sacrifice for the sake of political progress and the country’s future” because, for them, their immediate future is more important. Furthermore, when the presidential race begins, candidates will want to avoid controversial issues and major changes.

It was for all of these reasons that no steps toward constitutional reform were taken in the previous administration. If the government backtracks now, it will likely lose its chance for change during this administration as well.

No president likes to talk about revising the Constitution in the early part of their term because it puts them at risk of becoming a lame duck, but President Lee has been surprisingly passionate about the issue.

In contrast, the opposition party’s apparent desire to retreat just because they are out of power is unreasonable. Democratic Party floor leader Lee Kang-rae said he understands the need for reform, but seems to hesitate because he thinks the ruling party has ulterior motives.

In the interview with Yonhap, Lee said, “the opposition doesn’t appear to be ready to meet with me.”

However, there should be no reason why the president cannot just sit down with opposition party members. The more they talk, the more they can understand one another. Lee needs to talk to them to show that his motives are true.

It is frustrating to watch such a well-prepared plan begin to fall apart due to a lack of understanding between the parties.
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