[Viewpoint] Let politicians solve Sejong City issue

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[Viewpoint] Let politicians solve Sejong City issue

The Sejong City discussion is getting out of hand.

The word “referendum” has even been mentioned recently, which is the point at which politics becomes law.

Since the Constitution regulates everything related to a referendum, it can be argued that some officials are looking to use the Sejong City issue as a vehicle to confront politics and the Constitution itself.

The Constitution is a method of materializing the public’s sovereignty, and it is based on a representative system where elected leaders make most decisions.

Under a referendum, the public directly participates in national decision-making.

But it’s only to be used in exceptional cases where the representative system isn’t adequate or needs to be fixed to arrive at a valid decision.

In fact, the Constitution stipulates that the referendum system can only be used to solve issues involving “important policies related to a national crisis.”

Is the Sejong City-related law that the National Assembly already passed really an “important policy” related to a national crisis?

Regardless of how you define it, there is a high possibility that fixing the Sejong problem via a referendum will damage the entire democratic system within the National Assembly.

Furthermore, it will fly in the face of the Constitution’s declaration that the National Assembly “has legislative power.”

In other words, if the legislative branch loses its rights to enact laws - even on one issue - and a referendum is misused, it could provide a turning point where the president begins to use this system on a more widespread basis.

This does not jibe with the division of powers system outlined in the Constitution. The Constitutional Court warned of the dangers of referendums that are not related to national security or are not used for the right reasons.

Referendums have a strong “for or against” element, and opportunities for persuasion and negotiation through rational discussions can easily be squashed compared to a representative system.

There is also a high chance that national opinion can be influenced by instigation or spontaneous emotions.

Is it just to consider a referendum as a reflection of the opinion of the entire public when the participation rate of voters is low?

If a referendum is conducted because it is difficult to reach a majority vote, the conclusion can be reached that the opinions of the National Assembly - which is supposed to represent the public - and the opinions of the people who participate in a referendum do not coincide.

How can this problem be solved? If the people vote against the issue in a referendum, how can we deal with the great political confusion that follows?

Politicians use referendums to hide behind “the desires of the public” whenever they face difficulties achieving their intentions through the normal representative system.

If they avoid responsibility like this, who is held responsible? Is the public responsible? In the end, nobody takes responsibility. Where are the politicians, and where is responsible politics?

It is not a set rule that the Sejong City problem must be resolved through a referendum. Matching up the Constitution with politics in a situation where that is not the norm will only damage the law.

It is not wise at all to go through with a referendum while bypassing rules and regulations. It is best for the National Assembly to take the lead, especially when times are tough.

It is not important whether it is an original bill or a revised bill. However, basic constitutional rules must not be damaged in the process.

Politicians should abide by the process and humbly await the judgment of the people on the results.

*The writer is the chairman of the Korean Constitutional Law Association and a professor of law at the Kyungpook National University Law School.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Cho Hong-suck
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