The two-term presidency

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The two-term presidency

With the regular session of the National Assembly opened, constitutional revision from a five-year, one-term presidency to a four-year, two-term presidency has re-emerged as a hot issue. Minister without portfolio Lee Jae-oh, President Lee Myung-bak’s confidant and “special emissary” for the issue, said, “Now is the best timing for the revision.”

The Democratic Party floor leader Park Jie-won also agrees with the idea, saying, “Unless the idea is politically motivated, we can put it on the table.” However, there still remains much skepticism about the real prospects for revision. Even the ruling camp is sharply divided, and the schism has been fueling confusion.

First, we should recognize that we need such a change, but we aren’t there yet. Problems with the current five-year, one-term presidency have been pointed out consistently. It was in 2007 when President Roh Moo-hyun brought up the idea of a four-year, two-term presidency. But it just stirred up confusion, as his approval rating had dipped below 20 percent. Even the ruling Uri Party was unprepared to push for the change because of internal division on the issue.

President Lee proposed three major tasks for his administration - constitutional revision, electoral district changes and an administrative unit revamp - in his Aug. 15 address. But those ideas have all been swept up by the controversies over the Sejong City project, the Cheonan incident and the June 2 local elections.

If the issue is to be discussed in a proper way, the ruling camp should first reach agreement. After that, it should discuss the matter with opposition parties in committee at the National Assembly.

However, factions of the ruling Grand National Party are split over the issue. Park Geun-hye, a strong presidential hopeful and leader of the minority faction in the GNP, favors the four-year, two-term presidency. But the other faction of the GNP raised the idea of a new form of government in which the president handles diplomacy and defense while the prime minister handles domestic affairs. Park’s faction suspected that plan was an attempt to keep her in check.

The ruling camp should first address its internal conflict because a constitutional amendment will be impossible without Park’s consent. So Lee and Park should reach an agreement. Then lawmakers can set up a committee to discuss the issue inside the Assembly, including the need to introduce a four-year, two-term presidency, a vice presidency, power-sharing between the president and prime minister, and a parliamentary system.

Constitutional revision is a difficult job, but the ruling party must be united if it hopes to get support from its counterparts.
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