[CON] Five-year presidency works fine*Should presidents serve two four-year terms?
Presidential candidates Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party and Moon Jae-in of the main opposition Democratic United Party agree on one thing: scrapping the single-term, five-year presidency in favor of an American-style two-term, four-year system. Both have vowed to pursue a constitutional amendment to that end. But that position has not been met with universal acceptance. Here are both sides of the argument.
I oppose changes to the Constitution to reorganize the power structure that are politically motivated. The five-year, single-term presidential system is the foundation of Korea’s first peaceful power transition.
It has created a positive cycle for both gaining and relinquishing power through elections and helped to advance democracy in this nation.
I cannot agree with the argument that suggests presidents are less responsible and eager because they do not have the chance of serving beyond five years.
Presidents can exercise good judgment and can perform well over the span of five years. The proposal to change the presidential term to synchronize the presidential election with the four-year terms of legislators and the legislative election is a dangerous idea.
A parliamentary election that takes place during a president’s term can serve as a kind of midterm referendum on the performance of the president. It is why even advanced societies try to stagger the terms of heads of state and legislators to rein in executive power.
Moreover, a four-year, two-term presidency contradicts the Constitution’s fundamental principle of dispersing the concentration of power. If re-elected, the president would serve for eight years and be tempted by omnipotent power-wielding. A longer presidency also would invite corruption involving family members or aides.
The French-style semi-presidential system, in which a president and prime minister have equal power to ensure a division of authority, is also not suitable for Korea. The country lacks historical experience in different political systems. France and other countries with semi-presidential systems have experimented with bicameralism or other systems before developing the hybrid government model.
Korea, in contrast, briefly experienced a parliamentary cabinet system under the Second Republic. Even then, the ruling party was engulfed by a factional power struggle and mired in conflict between the president and legislative branch. It is hard to imagine a distinctively divided presidential system that requires harmonious separation of power between the executive and legislative branches in Korea.
Instead, we can make the best of existing constitutional rights and obligations by enhancing the role of the prime minister. The Constitution entitles the prime minister to recommend appointees to cabinet ministerial posts, but past presidents have killed the right by naming the prime minister and cabinet members at the same time. Our political confusion and ills should be blamed not on the single-term presidency, but on outdated political practices and a culture that misused vested powers.
People do not care about constitutional reform or changing the power system. They are distressed and anxious about a prolonged economic slowdown and worsening income inequality. What they need and desire to see is politicians at work trying to come up with solutions to their problems.
Presidential candidates should devote time and energy to constructive policies to improve the lives of the people. But the enormous scale of the work necessary to revamping the political power structure could demoralize and eclipse all other endeavors and policies. It is why I oppose changing the Constitution, especially ahead of the presidential election.
*The author is a professor at Sogang University Law School.
By Lim Ji-bong