Meeting on Constitution packed

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Meeting on Constitution packed


Grand National Party lawmakers gather at the National Assembly yesterday to begin a three-day discussion session on amending the Constitution. [NEWSIS]

The Grand National Party yesterday formally began a discussion, with an unexpectedly high turnout, to address the contentious issue of amending the Constitution, as lawmakers who have been lukewarm on the matter made appearances.

The meeting also took place amid opposition political parties’ criticism that the ruling party was toying with the issue for political purposes, as the amendments are expected to focus on ending the current presidential system.

The GNP general assembly, scheduled for three days, began at 2 p.m. at the National Assembly.

“We talked about other issues first, and the discussion on constitutional amendments began at 3 p.m.,” said Representative Ahn Hyoung-hwan, GNP spokesman. “[Out of the GNP’s 171] lawmakers, 125 attended the meeting.”

Joining the meeting were lawmakers loyal to President Lee Myung-bak and supporting a constitutional amendment, but there also were pro-Park Geun-hye lawmakers. Lee Jae-oh, President Lee’s political affairs minister and the main advocate for a constitutional amendment, however, did not attend the meeting.

Park was also absent, but many of her loyalists attended the discussion.

“In 1987, we had a constitutional amendment to end the wrongs of past authoritarian regimes and to directly elect the president, and the 1987 Constitution has now successfully completed its role of democratization and establishment of basic rights,” GNP Chairman Ahn Sang-soo said, urging lawmakers to begin discussion on the changes.

Ahn reminded the GNP lawmakers that the ruling and opposition parties had reached an agreement in 2007 to amend the Constitution.

“The National Assembly is responsible for keeping the promise,” he said, urging the lawmakers to have a candid, conscientious and mature discussion.

In January 2007, then-President Roh Moo-hyun proposed a constitutional amendment to end the current single-term, five-year presidency, and the heads of six political parties agreed three months later that the proposal would be deferred to the next term of the National Assembly.

The current legislature’s term began in May 2008 and the Future Korea Constitution Committee, a study group, was formed in the National Assembly in July. The group, however, has made little progress.

At the beginning of the session, Representative Lee Ju-young, a co-chairman of the Future Korea Constitution Committee, stressed the need to amend the Constitution.

“We have to conclude an official party platform to decide whether we should go for the four-year presidency with a possibility of re-election or a semipresidential system,” he said.

Lee said he believes the U.S.-style presidential system is ideal for Korea, adding that the president’s term should be aligned with lawmakers’ terms. Lee gave a 40-minute lecture on the constitutional amendment before other lawmakers took turns to talk.

According to GNP spokesman Ahn, the atmosphere of the discussion was not rigid or intense.

“The 125 lawmakers are listening to each other’s opinions seriously,” he said. “They are speaking their opinions freely.”

While most lawmakers expressed support for the amendments, there were a few who made public their opposition. Representative Kim Sung-tae said there are other urgent issues to be addressed by the ruling party, such as unemployment. The opposition parties unanimously criticized the GNP’s move to discuss the issue.

“It is pathetic that the GNP is opening a general lawmakers’ assembly today to formally address constitutional amendments,” said the Democratic Party’s chief policy maker Jun Byung-hun. “The people are not interested in the issue, but the GNP is concentrating its energy on a nonsensical matter.”

By Ser Myo-ja []
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