An imperial presidency must stop

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An imperial presidency must stop

The idea of a constitutional amendment to change the current single-term, five-year presidency has recently surfaced in the National Assembly with the support of more than 100 lawmakers. President Park Geun-hye, however, has made clear her opposition to the proposal, calling it a “black hole,” and arguing that focusing the country’s energy on other issues, including discussions on a revision, would be detrimental to the economy and the public’s livelihood. While lawmakers have stopped talking about it for now, opinion surveys showed that the public supports the idea.

Public distrust in politics has reached a new peak. Correcting the function of politics is the most important task of our time and a key step to becoming an advanced society.

We must find an answer as to why our politicians have fallen into this situation and how we can correct it.

The biggest cause of the current crisis is the imperial presidency. The president’s power under the current Constitution is stronger than that of the American president. Because the president also enjoys unofficial powers that are not stipulated in the Constitution but guaranteed by traditions and culture, the position has become known as “imperial.”

It is likely that dynastic rulers didn’t have the broad-reaching powers that Korea’s president enjoys today. The problem is that we no longer have a heroic leader who can manage this power. The people will no longer allow a controlling power or authoritarian leadership.

The Constitution provides the president with power that he or she cannot exercise alone, causing conflict and inefficiencies. Although the government has so much power, the people suffer from thirst. It is an evil effect caused by the internal reserve of power.

In our political system, the winner takes all and rules exclusively. Political parties, therefore, fight until their deaths to win the presidency. When there is no upcoming election, political parties treat every matter as a battle and fight to the top.

Unless the imperial power is divided democratically, lawmakers will continue to fight, and the political process will be compromised. The government cannot run the country during such deadlocks.

Without fixing this fundamental issue, talking about political reform is meaningless. Achieving a democratic division of power through a constitutional amendment will be the best political reform. All presidential candidates have pledged to do so because they know there is a desperate need.

But upon election, each president has consistently turned away from this pledge because a single-term, five-year presidency allows them to be free of political responsibility. Because they are more obsessed with keeping their power during their term, they have little room to plan for the country’s future.

It is lamentable that all past presidents have repeated the same lame pattern. At the beginning of their term, they promote major projects. Then they hurry to achieve visible outcomes in the middle of their terms and shy away from the idea of a constitutional amendment later as the next election approaches.

For the sake of Korea’s future, they should have destroyed fraying politics and amended the Constitution to create a new framework for a new country. The people all agree that the economy and livelihood issues are important. But there was never a moment that these issues were not important, and we can never amend the Constitution if we keep blaming them.

It is premature to conclude that the efforts to revive the economy will be hindered when the National Assembly starts its attempt to amend the Constitution. The reality could be just the opposite. It could also be a “black hole” that absorbs all unnecessary political fights.

While many politicians look toward a constitutional amendment, the government can still push forward its projects without being disturbed.

It is encouraging that conditions for an amendment are most opportune. About 70 percent of the people support the amendment and more than 90 percent of lawmakers agree to it. The number of lawmakers who officially joined the group at the National Assembly to push forward the amendment is higher than the number required to sponsor an amendment bill.

The leaders of the ruling and opposition parties and the National Assembly also actively support the move. It is hard to win public support when lawmakers delay this issue without an alternative. Moving across time demands could bring about another political conflict. 

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff

*The author is a Saenuri Party representative.

by Cho Hae-jin
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