[Viewpoint] Lee should give up Constitution fight

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[Viewpoint] Lee should give up Constitution fight

“It is a downhill from here on.” President Lee Myung-bak hates the expression. He rejected the comparison of his five-year presidency to mountain climbing. “Many say that it’s downhill from the peak since three years have passed, but that’s the point of view of those fighting for power,” Lee said.

Instead, he defined the presidency as a “relay race.” It’s a very typical expression of Lee. He still refrains from using words such as “politics” or “power.” Rather, he prefers CEO terms such as “success,” “hard work” and “victory” when it comes to leadership.

But leaders elected for fixed terms face a similar situation as time goes on. The situation is no different, whether they are climbing mountains or running a relay race.

The shadow of the lame duck period looms when they have about two years left in their terms. The conditions for a successful performance become increasingly strict. The public demands both a bold and sensitive approach to select priorities. Tasks that are unfeasible should be given up.

President Lee is a leader who attempts to micromanage everything. Meeting this demand, therefore, will not be easy. In fact, problems have already risen over his proposed constitutional amendments. “It is not too late to revise the Constitution if the ruling and opposition lawmakers cooperate. I think this year will be appropriate,” Lee said.

A constitutional revision, however, appears almost impossible at this point. There are many reasons for the effort to fail. In 1990, Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam and Kim Jong-pil agreed to amend the Constitution to introduce a parliamentary cabinet system, but the agreement was never implemented.

The cause was Kim Young-sam, who was the strongest presidential candidate at the time and broke the promise. For Kim, there was no gain in amending the Constitution. Meanwhile, Roh, who was president at the time, tried to maintain his influence by restructuring the political order with the constitutional proposal, but his attempt failed.

When future political leadership rejects constitutional revision, any attempt to achieve such reform is doomed to fail. That’s the essence of the relationship between the two - future power and constitutional revision - and it will never change.

Right now, the most prominent source of future political power is Park Geun-hye, former Grand National Party chairwoman. She has refused to deal with the discussions on a constitutional revision.

Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo shares the same position, and the opposition parties are also negative about the revision. The Kim Dae-jung administration’s alliance with Kim Jong-pil before the presidential election in 1997 was also based on revising the Constitution to introduce a parliamentary cabinet system.

But both had completely different political backgrounds and ideologies. Their agreement to work on a constitutional amendment only worked to cover up the differences.

The two veteran politicians instinctively knew the tough path ahead for a constitutional revision. It requires a two-third majority vote in the National Assembly and then a national referendum. The revision can only be realized under a grand national consensus for a grand national transition.

A constitutional revision is a serious move to change the nation’s framework. The process requires a national leader’s deep resolve, bold decision and strong will. President Lee’s attitude appears far from that. He just talked about the need to amend the Constitution and asked the National Assembly to do the job, not the Blue House, as if he were just an observer.

Such an ambiguous position only causes us to doubt Lee’s ability, and critics say he lacks political sense. That’s why Lee’s argument for a constitutional revision is triggering criticism that he is using the issue to try to block Park.

The National Assembly is also the subject of public criticism. Many doubt if the legislature is fit to discuss the issue. The ruling Grand National Party is filled with first-term lawmakers and the task is too difficult for them to handle.

Minister without portfolio Lee Jae-oh of the GNP is the evangelist of the constitutional revision, but his path is obviously different from that of President Lee. Attempting to revise the Constitution during the later half of a presidential term is a dangerous political game. It’s not an effective calculation by a CEO because it will accelerate the lame duck period.

It is President Lee who must change. He should, first of all, demand the GNP to abandon the issue and hand it over to the next administration.

At the end of his term, Lee must not waste his time and energy. This logic applies to the new airport project in the southeastern region as well. Busan’s Gadeok Island and Miryang are now engaged in a fierce competition to attract the project to their area. But the people criticize the project since most of the regional airports are simply symbols of wasted tax money.

The project goes back to 2006, and it was also Lee’s campaign pledge when he ran for president in 2007. But the situation has changed now. The KTX bullet trains travel between Seoul and Busan 112 times a day, and the shortest travel time is only two hours and 18 minutes.

Moreover, Incheon International Airport is being expanded. As a result, the reason for constructing a new airport in the country has effectively been banished. Lee should suspend the new airport project and also hand it over to the next administration for reconsideration. The project has already split the Gyeongsang area.

Lee must not disperse his abilities when it come to state affairs. He should rather focus on his political assets as his term nears the end. He must prioritize his goals in a bold manner. He must be accustomed to making political decisions. Politics and political fights are different; political decisions are not political tactics.

A president is the highest political leader. When he avoids engaging in politics, Lee should pay the price. Avoiding politics will also weaken the creativity of his leadership. Political words are a method of vicarious satisfaction and a method of communication. Now is high time that he display decisiveness.

*The writer is the executive editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Park Bo-gyoon
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