After impeachment, calls for constitutional change spread

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After impeachment, calls for constitutional change spread

Former People’s Party Chairman Ahn Cheol-soo said Tuesday the country should begin discussions about revising the 1987 Constitution, adding one more voice to growing calls among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that the country needs to dilute the power of Korea’s president.

Ahn, a presidential hopeful, told reporters that the National Assembly could begin discussing constitutional change to the current five-year, single term presidency, which critics complained about even before the impeachment of Park Geun-hye last week.

“From non-violent, peaceful street protests that we have seen over the past few weeks, we have witnessed growing calls not only for a change in the president but also the grander change of how the country functions,” said the software-tycoon-turned-politician. “The demands to change the country includes the call for constitutional amendments,” added the two-term lawmaker.

Ahn, however, said revising the current winner-takes-all single member-district system for parliamentary elections should have priority over revising the constitution.

Under the current single member system, only a candidate who won the most votes from an electoral district becomes a lawmaker, and votes cast for other candidates are ignored.

Ahn’s approval of constitutional revisions is in line with other opposition lawmakers including Rep. Kim Boo-kyum of the Minjoo Party, Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun and even Saenuri lawmakers such as former Saenuri chief Kim Moo-sung.

In the days after the Assembly passed the impeachment motion last Friday, calls for constitutional change have gained traction in political circles, especially among opposition lawmakers who are not aligned with Moon Jae-in, a frontrunner in opinion polls about the next presidential race.

Ahn’s call followed a similar call by Rep. Kim Boo-kyum earlier in the day. Kim, who scored a landmark victory in the April election by becoming the first opposition lawmaker to represent a conservative district in Daegu, a stronghold of the conservative Saenuri Party, said the candlelight vigils calling for President Park’s resignation should culminate in a change to the constitution.

On suspicions that those who call for change do so because they have little chance of winning a presidential election under the current system, Kim said changing the constitution has long been promised by the political establishment. “It is the greed of those to enjoy enormous imperial-like presidential power that is breaking the promise,” said Kim.

There are a number of proposals being discussed among constitutional amendment advocates. One is adopting a semi-presidential system in which a president wields power over foreign affairs while a prime minister and the cabinet are in charge of domestic affairs. France has a form of this system. Another idea is to follow Britain’s Westminster system. Yet another alternative is the U.S.-style presidential system that allows a president to seek a second term and to shorten the term to four years.

Reflecting on growing calls for change, the ruling Saenuri Party and the three opposition parties agreed Monday to form a special 18-member parliamentary committee to discuss amending the constitution, which will be presided over by a Saenuri member.

But it is far from clear whether the political parties can come to agreement to revise the constitution prior to the presidential election, which will be held within 60 days if President Park Geun-hye is forced to resign by the Constitutional Court. It is preparing a trial of the impeachment charges approved by the assembly last Friday. The court is required to deliver a ruling by June 6.

Moon Jae-in, the presidential frontrunner, made clear his opposition to constitutional change prior to the presidential election, saying the movement to change the Constitution before the election is a ploy by the Saenuri to continue its grip in power.

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