Constitutional battle now begins in earnest

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Constitutional battle now begins in earnest

The Grand National Party’s three-day general assembly of lawmakers to discuss a plan for constitutional amendments is scheduled to kick off today, amid divided reactions from the rival factions toward the issue.

Upholding President Lee Myung-bak’s strong desire for constitutional amendments, a group of pro-Lee lawmakers held a meeting Sunday and declared their determination to push the agenda forward. In his 90-minute TV appearance last week, Lee proposed not only a change in the current presidential system but also broader modifications in the Constitution.

Lee Jae-oh, the minister without portfolio mainly handling political affairs and a key presidential aide, also attended the meeting Sunday. Including the minister, 35 lawmakers attended and agreed that their first goal will be creating a special committee in the party to come up with a unified position among the Grand Nationals in order to begin negotiations with opposition politicians.

The pro-Lee lawmakers also agreed that it is crucial to persuade not only opposition parties but also the pro-Park Geun-hye faction inside the GNP to amend the Constitution.

It remains to be seen how the effort by the pro-Lee faction will be perceived by Park loyalists. Of the 171 GNP lawmakers, about 60 to 70 are considered to be Park supporters.

Park loyalists have remained deliberately lukewarm about the issue, despite some pro-Lee lawmakers’ enthusiasm. Park has been leading in polls for a long time as the strongest presidential candidate for the next election, and her supporters suspect the Lee loyalists’ plan to amend the Constitution to end the current presidential system will undermine her dominance by changing the political landscape.

“We will attend the general assembly of the lawmakers. Park probably thinks there is no reason [for her faction] to oppose [the amendment],” Suh Byung-soo, a member of the GNP Supreme Council and a pro-Park lawmaker, told the JoongAng Ilbo. “But we still have doubts about the genuineness of the constitutional amendments [proposed by the Lee faction].”

Lee has proposed a wide range of amendments, ranging from the election system to gender equality and the inter-Korean relationship. Among them, the most sensitive subject was a plan to end the current single-term five-year presidency to allow re-election, which he said would calm bitter partisan battles.

The pro-Park lawmakers’ responses are particularly important because constitutional amendments are a sheer game of numbers. And the game begins today with the pro-Lee faction’s goal of creating the special committee devoted to the issue inside the party.

According to the GNP constitution, more than a majority of the 171 GNP incumbent lawmakers needs to attend the meeting and more than half of the attending members - at least 44 - must agree with the launch of the special committee.

After the special committee drafts a constitutional amendment bill, it must be adopted as an official GNP platform. To this end, more than two thirds of the 171 lawmakers must endorse the plan. For the pro-Lee faction to gather at least 114 votes, approval by the pro-Park faction is mandatory.

For the bill to be submitted for a vote at the National Assembly, at least a half of the incumbent 296 members of the legislature must sponsor the bill. The president can also submit it to the legislature for voting.

Once submitted, the constitutional amendment requires approval of at least two-thirds of sitting lawmakers.


By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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