Debate continues over amending Constitution

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Debate continues over amending Constitution

Energizing the political community right now is the idea of whether the constitutional system could undergo major reforms under the Park Geun-hye administration, a debate triggered two weeks ago by the ruling Saenuri Party leader.

Chairman Kim Moo-sung remarked on Oct. 16 that the close of the National Assembly’s regular session later this year would prompt an outpouring of discussion on a constitutional amendment.

But lawmakers who support the systematic overhaul have so many divergent opinions on the extent and specifics of the revision that it appears considerable time would be needed for a consensus to be reached.

The idea of an amendment to the Constitution has been raised in all other previous administrations, but the Park administration is distinct from its predecessors in that strong presidential candidates often represented the biggest stumbling block in carrying out reforms.

When former President Roh Moo-hyun brought up an amendment near the end of his term, resistance from two powerful potential presidential candidates from the opposition Grand National Party, the predecessor to the Saenuri, foundered the plan. Lee Myung-bak went on to win the presidency, beating out his party rival Park Geun-hye.

The situation is different now because although Park is about to enter the third year in her term, there is still no obvious presidential candidate in the fray.

However, several candidates from both parties have been mentioned as possible contenders. From the Saenuri party, Chairman Kim; floor leader Kim Moon-soo, the former governor of Gyeonggi who heads the party’s conservatism innovation special committee; and former presidential candidate Chung Mong-joon have all been suggested.

From the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), the main opposition, current Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon; its former Co-chairman Ahn Cheol-soo; former presidential candidate Moon Jae-in and incumbent South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung have all been touted, though none has really stood out.

A senior Saenuri lawmaker said that neither the ruling party nor the NPAD is sure that it can pull off a victory at this point.

There is no guarantee the ruling party will see another win in the 2017 presidential election, he added, and the main opposition already saw a series of defeats in the July by-elections.

“Multiple-term lawmakers have no choice but to be attracted to the idea of sharing power over the course of the general election and presidential election [through a constitutional amendment],” he said.

Many lawmakers are already skeptical about Korea’s five-year single-term presidency. “We have seen in each of the past administrations that the presidents ended up as failures under the current system. This is not to blame the individual, but the problem with the system,” said Rep. Moon Byeong-ho.

Even though the foundation for launching a discussion on a constitutional amendment has been laid, these differing perspectives have yet to reach the stage that satisfies the majority for the bill for a constitutional amendment - two-thirds of enrolled parliamentary members.

Even among those who support a constitutional reform, when and how to carry it out widely varies.

Notable is that an increasing number of lawmakers have brought up the semi-presidential system as an alternative. Criticizing the current system, which they say grants too much power to the president, they claim the president would rather be responsible for diplomacy and defense while the prime minister would take administrative power. Some also contend that the president should be allowed multiple terms.

Leading the faction inside the Saenuri that supports the semi-presidential system is Rep. Lee Jae-oh. But Kim, chief of the reform special committee, and South Gyeongsang Governor Hong Jun-pyo are against the idea of constitutional amendment, which some view as an attempt to confront Saenuri leader Kim, their potential competitor in the 2017 presidential election.

Within the NPAD, Representatives Chung Sye-kyun, Park Jie-won and Woo Yoon-keun - all from Jeolla, a province that has traditionally rivaled Gyeongsang, a Saenuri stronghold - are the most proactive about the amendment and support a semi-presidential system.

“It seems implausible that we will see a president from Jeolla in the upcoming election, so building a political structure that could represent the sentiment in that region would be faster,” said NPAD Rep. Kim Yung-rok.

In 2012, when he ran for president against President Park, Rep. Moon Jae-in proposed the adoption of a four-year, multiple-term presidency and vice presidency, while Seoul Mayor Park, on the other hand, has said he prefers a four-year, multiple term presidency, without the need for a vice president.

Rep. Ahn has rarely mentioned the idea of an amendment.

“Although a number of lawmakers talk about constitutional amendment, if you look more closely, each of the different political factions has different goals,” a National Assembly official said.


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