Speaker promotes an amendment to the Constitution

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Speaker promotes an amendment to the Constitution


President Park Geun-hye has a meeting with Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, heads of five constitutional institutions and chairmen of political parties in the Speaker’s reception room on Monday after delivering a speech at the opening of the 20th National Assembly. [NEWSIS]

National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun asserted Monday the need to amend the Constitution to introduce a new governing system, fueling the growing demands to end Korea’s five-year single-term presidency.

The National Assembly held a ceremony to mark the formal opening of its 20th term Monday morning and Chung gave a speech as its new speaker. In his address, Chung said the time has come for Korea to introduce a new governing system and that the change should take place during the tenure of the current assembly.

Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the current Constitution, Chung said, which introduced the so-called 1987 system. He added, “A constitutional amendment is not a subject you should bring up lightly, but neither is it something we can ignore forever.”

Chung, a six-term lawmaker, was elected as the new speaker last week. He surrendered his affiliation with the Minjoo Party of Korea to maintain neutrality, as is the National Assembly’s tradition. Chung also vowed Monday to play a key role in pushing forward the constitutional amendment. “As the speaker,” he said, “I will lay the foundation stone so that the 20th National Assembly will reflect the changing times and new zeitgeist.”

The last amendment of the Constitution was passed in October 1987 to end the country’s decades-long authoritarian dictatorships and introduce direct presidential elections. Following the democratic uprising in June 1987 to protest the indirect presidential election system insisted by the military government of Chun Doo Hwan, the Constitution was amended to introduce a direct presidential election and a single-term, five-year presidency. The presidential right to dismiss the National Assembly was also abolished, while the legislature was given the right to audit the administration.

In recent years, demands have been made by politicians and academics to amend the constitution so as to reform the current single-term, five-year presidency.

A forum also took place at the National Assembly on Monday and civic groups explored the possibility of a constitutional amendment before next year’s presidential election. Senior politicians from both the Saenuri Party and the Minjoo Party of Korea also attended the forum.

“We have about one year and six months from the start of the 20th National Assembly until the next presidential election,” said Saenuri Rep. Lee Ju-young in his speech. “If we push forward the constitutional amendment and speedily hold a referendum, I expect we can accomplish our goal during this window of time.” Reverend In Myung-jin, co-head of the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice, said the 1987 system and the two-party system are no longer valid in Korean society and that a new political order must be established. He said the current presidential system is making the president an imperial, arrogant, high-handed leader.

While politicians and scholars have increasingly raised the issue, President Park Geun-hye has adamantly insisted that now is not the time to talk about a constitutional amendment. In a press conference in January, Park shot down the idea by saying, “We have no room to be sucked into a black hole and I cannot even dare to mention the constitutional amendment because we cannot see beyond our nose right now.”

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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