A matter of public consensus

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A matter of public consensus

The debate over revising the Constitution is heating up again. Ahn Sang-soo, chairman of the ruling Grand National Party, fanned the flames by proposing that the National Assembly set up a special committee to explore constitutional revision by the end of the year. He said that his party will start a full-fledged discussion on the issue now that the G-20 Summit is over.

Lee Jae-oh, minister without portfolio and a close aide to President Lee Myung-bak, went so far as to suggest a new power structure - one in which the president deals with defense and diplomacy issues, while the prime minister takes care of domestic affairs. He added that he would try to convince the public of the need to revise the Constitution, which stipulates a five-year, one-term presidency.

Surveys show that Koreans sympathize with the need for such a revision because the current Constitution - hurriedly revised in 1987 after a political compromise between the ruling and opposition parties - has sparked a string of problems, including a so-called “imperialistic presidency” and irresponsible governance. And now that Korea has joined the ranks of developed countries, there is a need to polish the articles dealing with the basic rights of the people.

Judging from the level of discussion on the issue so far, however, the revision is hardly expected to occur during the current administration. In a survey by Realmeter earlier this month, 54.8 percent of respondents said it will be impossible to revise the Constitution during the Lee administration, and just 25.8 percent said it would be possible.

Constitutional revision is closely tied to the existing power structure. Therefore, the debate naturally gains momentum during the early part of a presidential administration, when the president has the power of the people behind him, or when the next presidential election is still distant so there is no clear-cut outline of presidential contenders.

If the ruling camp attempts to revise the Constitution in the later part of this administration, it could get itself mired in a mess. A lot of discussions on the matter were held during the previous administration, but no progress was made. It is regrettable that the current administration is trying to rekindle the flame of constitutional revision in the second half of its term.

Constitutional revision is possible only when there is a public consensus. It is not merely a question of political bargaining or obtaining a majority of votes in the National Assembly.
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