Let’s get seriousSaenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung stirred up fury and confusion in the ruling party following his remarks about constitutional amendment plans. While meeting Korean reporters on a visit to China, Kim said the National Assembly will start discussions on a constitutional amendment to trim the mighty power of the president by distributing authority between the president and prime minister. He suggested a political framework similar to that of Austria, with a federal chancellor acting as head of the government and a federal president as head of the state. His comment went against a warning by President Park Geun-hye, who had advised the National Assembly not to let controversial issues like constitutional reform get in the way of legislative activities that were paralyzed for months, leaving a backlog of economy-related bills and a review of reforms of the government employees’ pension system. Kim tried to undo the harm and said there wouldn’t be any discussions on constitutional reform while the National Assembly is in its regular session. He also apologized to the president for making upsetting comments while she was on an overseas trip.
Regardless of the need for reform of the current five-year presidential system, Kim has damaged the image of the ruling party. A party head should not have talked about an important issue like constitutional reform casually without close and prior consultation with the presidential office. The government and ruling party need to discuss and coordinate any differences they have on any public policy. A constitutional amendment is a major change in the national structure. A party head, who is also considered a formidable potential candidate for president, should not have treated a major issue in the same light as an interesting, half-baked idea. If a responsible figure in the ruling party does not take an issue like constitutional reform seriously, how can we expect sincerity and gravity on lesser reforms, including changes to the government employees’ pension system?
There have been many talks, studies and calls to replace the 1987 constitution that stipulates a five-year, single-term presidency. Debates have been ripe in previous governments. A constitutional amendment must be based on orderly and sincere procedures due to its serious ramifications. There are many candidates in the ruling and opposition camp with their eyes on the presidency. They must not use constitutional reform for campaigning purposes. Debate on constitutional reform deserves more careful attention.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 18, Page 34