Constitutional amendment push picks up speed

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Constitutional amendment push picks up speed

A senior lawmaker from the main opposition party said Friday that he will resuscitate an expired forum of lawmakers to amend the constitution and introduce a new governing system, adding momentum to the latest drive to end Korea’s five-year, single-term presidency.

Rep. Won Hye-young, a five-term lawmaker of the Minjoo Party, told local media outlets that he will restart the group in the National Assembly to push the constitutional amendment forward. During the last term of the legislature, 154 out of 300 lawmakers participated in the group, but its tenure expired without changing the Constitution. Won was a key member of that group for the past four years.

“There were 154 members, but some didn’t make it to the new National Assembly,” Won said in an interview with local newspaper Money Today. “Eighty of them were re-elected, and we will ask the rest of the legislature to join.”

Won said the timing is right to push for change. “The Blue House’s power over the National Assembly has weakened, and there is no clear presidential front-runner,” Won said. “Lawmakers agree we need change.”

Introducing a new governing system to replace the so-called 1987 system is an idea that was formally proposed by National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun earlier this month when the National Assembly marked its formal opening. Chung said the time has come for change, and that it should take place during the tenure of the current assembly.

The last constitutional amendment was passed in October 1987 to end the country’s decades-long authoritarian dictatorships and introduce direct presidential elections. A single-term, five-year presidency was introduced, and the president’s right to dismiss the National Assembly was abolished.

Woo Yoon-keun, the newly appointed secretary general of the National Assembly, went a step further and demanded that a referendum take place next April with a by-election.

In an interview with PBC Radio on Wednesday, Woo said a special committee on the constitutional amendment should be formed by the ruling and opposition parties, and planned changes should be presented to the public by the end of the year.

“The economy and society will advance when the politics are stable,” he said. “But the current political system has so many evils. Reconciliation is impossible for a country ridden with conflict as long as it operates under this winner-take-all system.”

It remains to be seen whether the National Assembly’s move will show tangible progress. While politicians and scholars have raised the issue, President Park Geun-hye adamantly has insisted that now is not the time to discuss a constitutional amendment.

In a press conference in January, Park shot down the idea. “We cannot 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.”

As Park loyalists’ support is crucial to amend the Constitution, Won said he visited Rep. Suh Chung-won, an influential leader of the Park associates, and sought his support on Wednesday. Won said Suh, an eight-term Saenuri Party lawmaker, told him that the time has come to start the discussion but did not say whether he would join the initiative.

While the Blue House remains firm on the issue, one sign of change was also seen in the ruling party. Rep. Chong Jong-sup, who served as the security and public administration minister in the Park administration, recently said the discussion should be completed by the end of this year.

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

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