President resurrects battle over ConstitutionCalling the Constitution “outdated,” President Lee Myung-bak has urged the leadership of the Grand National Party to push for a constitutional amendment to end the current single-term, five-year presidency, senior members of the party said yesterday.
The president and his top aides met with four Grand National Party leaders, including Chairman Ahn Sang-soo, on Sunday to mend the recent rupture between the Blue House and the ruling party. Contrary to earlier denials by the party and the Blue House that amending the Constitution would not be discussed during the meeting, people who attended the event admitted yesterday that Lee pressed the lawmakers on the issue.
“The time has come to change the Constitution,” Lee was quoted as saying by the sources. “Times have changed since the last amendment was made in 1987, and there are many disparities between [the current Constitution] and reality.”
According to the sources, Lee said that the kind of governing system that is chosen is not as important as bringing the system up to date.
“It doesn’t matter whether the change is to introduce a four-year presidency with a possibility of re-election, a semipresidential government or a parliamentary system,” Lee said. “That’s for the National Assembly to decide. I won’t be running for another term through this amendment. [The important thing] is to make this country right.”
Lee’s ideas on amending the Constitution is not only focused on changing the current presidential system, they said. “The Constitution should be revised to reflect the times, including issues of climate change, inter-Korean relations and gender equality,” Lee was quoted as saying.
The sources said Lee urged the ruling party and the legislature to take the lead, while expressing concerns about the possible political repercussions that could follow if he were to lead the change. They also said Lee seemed concerned that politicians were avoiding the issue based on political calculations and urged the lawmakers to consider the issue seriously.
Lee concluded the talks by telling his chief of staff and his senior secretary for political affairs that “the Blue House must not bring up the issue first.”
The proposal for a constitutional amendment was first made by Lee in 2009 during his Liberation Day address. He raised the issue again last year, but no progress was made and he has refrained from raising it again.
“It appears that the president expressed his frustration [to the GNP leadership] about the slow progress at the legislature,” a person who attended the meeting said.
While Lee’s main supporters have promoted the proposal, the idea has received a lukewarm response from within the party. Rival factions inside the GNP disagreed on the issue earlier this month, with the pro-Park Geun-hye faction opposing the plan.
A meeting for GNP lawmakers, initially planned for today, on the possibility of amending the Constitution was rescheduled for next month as representatives were unenthusiastic about discussing it.
The Blue House yesterday tried to play down the significance of Lee’s remarks, seemingly concerned that the issue will provoke those who oppose or are reluctant to discuss the issue.
“What Lee said Sunday is just a reiteration of his principles,” a Blue House official said yesterday. “His position, that the National Assembly should discuss the issue while the Blue House keeps its distance from it, remains unchanged.”
Although Lee loyalists inside the GNP are planning to hold a meeting on the issue today, the pro-Park faction reacted furiously. “What Lee said, although it is what he has always said, is a strategic move to delay [his lame duck period],” said Representative Suh Byung-soo.
Representative Lee Hahn-koo added, “The nation still feels economic hardship and the national security situation is unstable, but his agenda is unrealistic. It is a black hole intended to cover up his mismanagement of state affairs and keep Park Geun-hye in check.”
The opposition Democratic Party also sneered at the reports about a constitutional amendment. “Some say the president has urged the idea of amending the Constitution, while others say he hasn’t,” Park Jie-won, the DP floor leader, told reporters yesterday. “Who should we trust?” Park also said that Lee has already missed his chance because there is not enough time to make the change before the end of his term. “If Lee had really intended to amend the Constitution, he should have done so at the beginning of his term,” he said.
By Ser Myo-ja, Jung Hyo-sik [email@example.com]
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이명박 대통령은 23일 밤 청와대 인근의 서울 삼청동 안가(安家)에서 열린 당·정·청 수뇌부 비공개 만찬회동에서 이렇게 물으면서 개헌 얘기를 먼저 꺼냈다고 한다. 그런 다음 노무현 전 대통령이 집권 말기에 ‘원포인트 개헌(대통령 5년 단임제인 권력구조만 손질하는 개헌)’을 제안했던 사례를 떠올리며 개헌 필요성에 대해 언급했다.
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그러면서 “며칠 전 한 일간지 사설이 잘 써 놨더라. 내 생각이랑 같다”고 했다. 그 사설의 골자는 ‘올해가 개헌할 마지막 기회이며, 땜질식 부분개헌이 아니라 21세기 정보사회에 따른 정보기본권·지방분권 등에 걸맞게 인류의 보편적 가치를 수용하는 전면개헌을 해야 한다’는 것이었다. 이 대통령은 권력구조에 대해선 “나는 (대통령) 중임제든, 분권형(대통령이 외교·안보·국방 분야를 맡고 국회에서 뽑는 총리는 행정을 책임지는 형태)이든, 내각제든 상관없다. …