Pro-Park faction backs amendment for constitution

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Pro-Park faction backs amendment for constitution

Despite the Blue House’s effort to block politicians’ attempts to amend the constitution, lawmakers of the ruling party, including loyalists of President Park Geun-hye, are increasingly pushing for the change as a strategy to win the next presidential election.

The latest push to amend the constitution and introduce a new governing system to replace the current five-year, single-term presidency was made by the floor leader of the Saenuri Party, a senior ruling party official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday.

“Rep. Chung Jin-suk recently told the Blue House that he has no card to use in negotiations against opposition parties to pass major bills and next year’s budget,” he said.

“The Blue House should accept the formation of a special committee on the constitutional amendment. It replied that Chung should use his own discretion, but requested that the reform initiatives of the government not be hindered.”

In a telephone interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, Chung also stressed the importance of ending the current presidential system.

“When we conclude next year’s budget bill, we can start forming the special committee to amend the constitution,” he said.

“Because the current presidential system already showed its limits, we need a fundamental change to resolve people’s concerns.”

Chung said discussing a constitutional amendment is only possible after pending bills, including the one for next year’s budget, are passed. “We cannot just talk about changing the constitution while doing nothing else.”

He also said there is no way for the Blue House to stop the change. “When the majority of lawmakers want to discuss it, there will be no way to stop it,” Chung said.

He, however, refused to confirm if he had told the Blue House about his plan.

But President Park opposed the idea. “We cannot be sucked into a black hole,” she said in a press conference in January, “and I cannot even dare to mention the constitutional amendment because we cannot see beyond our nose right now.”

Presidential spokesman Jung Young-kuk stressed again on Tuesday that the position remains unchanged, but it remains to be seen if the president’s disapproval would quiet the growing demand.

Introducing a new governing system to replace the so-called 1987 one is an idea that was formally proposed by National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun in May when the 20th National Assembly began.

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.

While some ruling and opposition lawmakers actively made a push, the idea quickly disappeared after Park directly shot it down earlier this year.

The sentiment among the Park loyalists, however, changed over recent weeks.

Saenuri Chairman Lee Jung-hyun, a key ally of the president, said in September that politicians must agree to a method and timetable.

Speculations grew that Park loyalists, who wish to recruit UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as their candidate, seek to amend the constitution to introduce a semi-presidential system in which the president will be in charge of foreign and defense affairs, while the prime minister will oversee domestic and economic policies.

They reportedly want Ban to serve as the president while a Park loyalist will control domestic affairs.

Conspicuously, Rep. Chung recommended the German-style, semi-presidential system.

Ban, however, has not yet made it known what he will do after his UN tenure, which ends this year.

The opposition parties, particularly the presidential frontrunners Moon Jae-in of the Minjoo Party of Korea and Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party, have been lukewarm toward the proposed amendment.

Rep. Park Jie-won, acting head of the People’s Party, said Tuesday that the latest push by the ruling party and the subsequent opposition by the Blue House all belongs to a larger political scheme.

“We must do it with a plan that will last for 100 years,” he said. “But Chung abruptly raised an issue to promote a German-style semi-presidential system, and the Blue House shot it down.

The Blue House and the Saenuri Party are now playing a political game to extend their rule. The opposition parties must not be fooled by their political play.”

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

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