Time for selflessnessThe National Assembly has set up a special committee for constitutional revision 29 years after the establishment of a similar such body in 1987 as a result of the mass protests to end decades of authoritarian governments and restore democracy to Korea. That marks a historic step by the legislature to change the current five-year, single-term presidency. This unique presidential system helped develop our fledgling democracy, as seen in the election of six presidents and two passings of the baton from one ideological side to the other since 1987.
However, due to the overconcentration of power in Korea’s president, every president ended up finishing his or her term with dishonor after aides and relatives were discovered to be involved in corruption. The system also triggered many problems in smoothly running the government, as presidential elections could not be held in the same year as parliamentary elections. A critical lack of leadership in the government after President Park Geun-hye was impeached over an unprecedented abuse of power scandal explicitly shows the dangers in our imperialistic presidency.
Despite a pretty widespread consensus on the need for a constitutional amendment, our political parties are fiercely fighting over whether to revise the Constitution or not. While the ruling Saenuri Party, the opposition People’s Party and a new conservative party split off from the Saenuri — all without a strong presidential hopeful — insist on working on the revision immediately, the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea is shaking it head at the need for reform because its former leader Moon Jae-in is a frontrunner in the polls to win under the current system.
In discussing constitutional revision, politicians must prioritize a long-term vision for the country and public sentiment over a pursuit of self-interest. The public made it clear that they want to see a decentralization of power, communication and co-governance instead of the weird, one-woman ways exemplified by Park.
If political circles choose to change the Constitution, this is perfect timing given the power vacuum ahead of a presidential election next year.
Considering that the next presidential election could be held as early as April or May given the ongoing deliberations at the Constitutional Court, the clock is ticking. But the special committee in the legislature is expected to submit an amendment to the Assembly regardless of presidential candidates’ individual positions now that the issue has emerged as a key need.
Those who want to run for president must recognize a need for constitutional change and make commitments before weighing how it will affect their futures. They must not ignore the call of the times.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 29, Page 34