Debate term-limits amendment

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Debate term-limits amendment

The current Constitution is a hard-won reward from the democracy movement in 1987. Many have voiced a need for amending the 25-year-old supreme laws to align with changes in the times and circumstances at home and abroad. But the calls have been mostly muffled and not publicly debated. A constitutional reform requires a public consensus. Timing is therefore important.

The time is ripe to debate the rewriting of the Constitution. Discussions have not been possible because the idea was mostly floated by presidents during their term in office. President Roh Moo-hyun, for instance, raised the issue during his New Year’s address to the people in 2007. He suggested amending one specific subject - the ruling power structure - because a broad rewriting would be too complex and time-consuming.

The late President Roh’s idea was quite persuasive. He proposed a revision of nationwide election codes to simplify the existing term length of five years for the president, four years for the legislators and separate four-year elections for regional governors, mayors, district heads and councilmen. He suggested the presidential tenure be shortened to four years and conduct an election simultaneously with the one to elect lawmakers. He also suggested two terms for the president. But Roh’s proposal was dismissed as political ambition to extend his term. Parties nevertheless agreed to discuss the matter in the next legislative term. But the incumbent 18th National Assembly, whose term ends this month, never thoroughly discussed the matter.

President Lee Myung-bak tried to address the issue a few times. In his Liberation Day speech in 2009, he echoed his predecessor’s idea of revising the Constitution on power structure. In 2011, he proposed a more broad constitutional reform led by the legislature. The then-ruling Grand National Party tried to initiate the action based on the president’s idea, but received the cold shoulder from insiders who suspected it as a plot against the potential president-in-waiting Park Geun-hye.

For the talk on constitutional reform to make headway, presidential candidates should study the matter before the election arrives. They must promise the amendment as part of their campaign platform to be initiated during his or her term. Presidential candidates should put the idea on the table. The talks could provide a good opportunity for the public to study the potential and vision of the candidates as well.
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