Now is not the time for a revision
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.
Although some politicians argue that the time has come to start discussing a constitutional amendment, now is not the time. It is imperative to keep the economic recovery going. Growth has slowed, domestic demand has declined and the Korean economy has had trouble escaping this crisis. Companies relying on exports are performing poorly, while domestic businesses are unprofitable.
Regional economies are also slow and labor relations are unstable. The unemployment rate and household debt are increasing, becoming potential threats to a turnaround, and a delayed global economic recovery is only adding to the uncertainty.
The government has largely increased the budget for major projects, but so far there have been no visible outcomes. This is extremely frustrating. And yet, creating political conflict by advocating a constitutional amendment amid this economic crisis is to essentially acknowledge that politics is dysfunctional. Politicians must not fuel the fire, but work to restore the economy.
It will be hard to win public support. Only a few politicians may have a deep interest in changing the nation’s power balance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the people support it. How many citizens are actually interested in the new semi-presidential system that may be institutionalized as the result of a mass revision? Although lawmakers always claim to listen to the voices of their constituents, they now say that the best time to amend the Constitution would be next year, when no election is scheduled. The people’s hope lies within economic recovery, but legislators are only interested in a constitutional amendment, so it is hard to say that this is politics for the people.
They must rethink their priorities.
It’s been only two years since the Park Geun-hye administration came in. This is now the time the government must put its efforts toward major projects. When the country is swept away by controversy over a constitutional amendment, how can the government possibly work? When the discussion begins, all major projects will be ceased and the driving force behind the government will be lost. It is not hard to imagine that the government will experience enormous hardship in pushing forward its policies. Is it right to push forward an amendment when the outcome is destined?
Everything has its timing. And it is easy to lose that timing, although it is also hard to win it. If we cannot restore the economy, we won’t know when the next chance will come. And it will be the people who suffer from the consequences. This is a rare opportunity and we must not let it pass us by. The government and lawmakers also have other tasks at hand, such as improving public safety. Restructuring the government and reforming public institutions is also urgent.
While the government was fighting a difficult war to recover the economy, the National Assembly did nothing, wasting precious time. Bills aimed at boosting the economy needed to be approved quickly to support the government’s implementation of those policies, but lawmakers failed to review those bills. Because these lawmakers say they want to amend the Constitution, the public is skeptical.
The legislature must pay attention to stabilizing the people’s livelihood rather than reforming the nation’s power structure. Without a sound economy, changing the power structure is nothing more than an empty promise. Currently, a slew of economic bills are piled up outside committee rooms, waiting to be read. The president and the government want to push forward big projects, but the National Assembly is dysfunctional, making it impossible for them to work.
Before blaming the president and the government, politicians must put the blame on themselves. Instead of pointing a finger at the current presidential system and debating a constitutional amendment, lawmakers must discuss their priorities in the National Assembly. Once again, now is not the time to forcibly fuel the discussion on a constitutional amendment. It is time to keep the fire of economic recovery going.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff
*The author is a Saenuri Party representative.
By Yoon Sang-hyun