Revise Constitution when fittingThe ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Democratic United Party agreed to set up a body to review and discuss constitutional reform. Although yet to be decided, the two parties are also mulling launching a special legislative committee on amending the Constitution. It is quite meaningful that the legislature officially agreed to discuss constitutional reform after all the proposals to revise the Constitution made by many politicians.
The current Constitution was revised in 1987 to fix the presidential tenure to a single five-year term following lengthy authoritarian regimes.
Talk of revising the constitutional statute on presidential terms has been raised every five years since the Kim Young-sam administration in the 1990s. Proponents of constitutional reform argue presidential powers are too big and governance too inconsistent and irresponsible under the current single term system. Former presidents as well as politicians more or less agree on the drawbacks of a single-term presidential system. The Constitutional amendment has remained as a political mission that has to be completed sooner or later.
President Park Geun-hye during her campaigning days supported the idea of changing the presidential system to the American style of two four-year terms. In a poll of 233 legislators by the JoongAng Ilbo in July last year, 202 approved of constitutional change, which is more than the number (200) of representatives needed to pass the revised Constitution through the National Assembly. Other polls showed that more than half of the general public supports the idea of revising the Constitution on presidential term limits. The consensus has been sufficiently built for the momentum with support of the president, more than two-thirds of the legislature and public majority.
The constitutional amendment would largely focus on revising the power structure and presidential term limit. There have been suggestions on two four-year terms, a bicameral legislature, a semi-presidential system and a parliamentary system. The legislature will have to discuss what system would be ideal for our country and political system.
The constitutional amendment is an issue of immeasurable gravitas. It can be best be pursued when the voice of an incumbent president is strong and during the early stage of a presidential term when there are not yet clear signs of aspiring presidential candidates.
But it nevertheless should not be hastily expedited. When they are discussing the constitutional amendment, the ruling and opposition parties should put their feet in the other’s shoes since they might be on the other side of the agreement from now on depending on the result of the next presidential election.
If parties pursue constitutional reform with self-interests, they could bring about huge tragedy and loss to the country. But they should not waste momentum in political wrangling. The legislature should muster bipartisan wisdom to update the Constitution.