Assembly must leadIn her pitch for the government’s 2017 budgetary outline to the National Assembly, President Park Geun-hye called the five-year, single-term presidential system an “outdated wardrobe that no longer fits us” and called for a constitutional amendment to change it. She said a government committee will be established to come up with an outline for constitutional changes and asked the National Assembly to form a separate review committee to propose its version after reflecting on public opinion.
Given her hard-line rejection of constitutional change in the past, the public has been baffled by the president’s sudden change of mind. Whatever her motive, she has paved the way for an open and heated debate on a constitutional redesign of our future leadership.
The 1987 version of the Constitution institutionalized the direct election of a president for a single five-year term and ended the legacy of long-serving military regimes that had long outlived their purpose. That constitutional framework was hard-won by civilian activists during the authoritarian military regimes and reflected their determination to bring a free democracy to Korea. The system has worked for almost 30 year. But many have argued for amendments as the Constitution has failed to keep up with the country’s needs.
No other advanced country has a single-term five-year presidency. The single-term frees the president of responsibility over his or her deeds in the five-years of their tenure. The president tends to make the most of the power given within a limited time and loses connection with the people and politicians as he or she does not have to earn a second term. As a result, the president wields mighty power, and the ruling and opposition parties are forever wrangling.
The limited term also precludes sustainability in policies and any long-term vision for the country. Few are remembered as truly successful presidents during the last 30 years of direct elections because of this major flaw in the presidential system.
The last two National Assemblys have spent time and resources on research and an outline for changes to the Constitution. With further fine-tuning by the ruling and opposition parties, the legislature would be able to come up with a constitutional reform outline before the 2017 presidential campaign kicks off.
The president spoke of a government-led reform, but that does not make sense. Successful constitutional reforms have been led and supported by the people and their representatives. The reform in 1987 gained ground because it was led by the parliament and supported by the people. That’s how it should be.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 25, Page 30