[PRO] Constitution reform long overdue

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[PRO] Constitution reform long overdue

*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.

The talk of constitutional reform has been repeated and brewed for so long it has become commonplace. The menu no longer merely serves political position or motive. It is raised often and widely to suggest that a consensus has been built on the necessity of rewriting Korea’s Constitution, which has been untouched since 1987. Understandably, sincere debate on the issue has been delayed by a preoccupation with urgent economic and everyday problems.

Today’s circumstances are entirely different from the environment and events that have lead to constitutional reforms in the past, when amendments occurred in just months and were pushed by political or social force. This time, the idea was first floated by scholars and various research works have been completed and publicized. The National Assembly separately formed an advisory board that researched areas for revision in the Constitution for nearly two years.

The need to amend the Constitution has gained broad support from experts, and polls suggest that the majority of the general public also supports the idea. Opinions, however, differ on the specifics, such as timing, method and content. Politicians also are cautious about initiating the move because of the potential for conflicts of interests.

The main reason for amending the Constitution is the huge social and political changes over the last 25 years and the time has come for our supreme statutory law to keep abreast of them. It not only means transforming the contentious single-term, five-year presidential system to one that would allow two four-year terms, but also reorganizing the entire government framework, including modifying presidential and legislative authority to reflect the evolution of democracy over the past two decades.

The work should also include rewriting constitutional language and terms to bring them into sync with the age of information and globalization.

Another reason derives from the imperative of redressing questionable issues contained in the Constitution. The contentious second provision of the 29th Article on damages for soldiers in the Constitution of the Third Republic under the military regime of President Park Chung Hee that was ruled unconstitutional and other unclear legal references or principles need attention.

The third cause comes from the need to prepare the country for reunification. After the two Koreas are reunited, a new Constitution will be in order. Nevertheless there is the need for a constitutional foundation that stipulates effective and practical bipartisan cooperation in preparation for unification and efforts to minimize the shock and burden that will certainly occur.

From that perspective alone, there can be no question that constitutional reform is needed.

The problem is that necessity does not guarantee legitimacy. In order to achieve justice in the cause of amending the Constitution, the opinion of the Korean people who hold the sovereignty and rights to the Constitution is essential. Constitutional reform can be legitimate and just only when the people are full partners in the process.

To muster support and endorsement from the public, we need agreement on every detail. That will require time, effort and patience unlike ever before. We can have a viable, irrefutable and just Constitution only after sufficient debate, review and, finally, consensus.

*The author is a professor at Korea University Law School.
By Chang Young-soo
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