The Constitution deserves betterKorean politics are stuck in a strange place. Worse than the ridiculous situation is the fact that not many people understand how absurd it is. The proposal for the constitutional amendment, for example, has no arguments backing it up.
Constitutional revision is definitely necessary. As the situation changes, the Constitution, which defines the state’s system and governing methods, needs to be updated to reflect those changes. But amending the Constitution is a historic event and will decide the new direction for the country.
An amendment requires careful thinking and serious review of how to accommodate the nation’s values while introducing changes.
For politicians, amending the Constitution is the highest political act. They call upon all their visions for the nation and history, define their positions and risk their political careers to realize their goals. They then wait for the judgment of the people and history’s evaluations.
This highest level of politics does not involve systematic debate and instead leads to unilateral additions or deletions of certain clauses. It is like watching children playing with Lego blocks and fighting over which block to add or not.
The president recently proposed constitutional amendments as a response to the situation. However, I doubt that the president understands the grave nature of constitutional revision.
The constitutional amendments proposed by the president include altered concepts of citizens, local autonomy and civil servants.
It also includes a revised Preamble to the Constitution that defines the historical significance of the nation.
Of course, these are not sacred concepts that cannot be revised. Yet, they are related to the historical significance of the state and the basis of governing order and need to be addressed carefully. These concepts are very broad, and involve complicated academic and political issues. A national consensus based on in-depth review by expert scholars is needed.
The proposed revision was drafted by the Presidential Committee for Policy Planning. There is no reason to doubt the expertise of the scholars involved in the committee or the seriousness of the citizen representatives. But I find it strange that the amendments are presented to the citizens as great revisions without explaining why they are great.
No committee member officially presented the presidents’ constitutional beliefs, the relevance of the time, and the amendment’s political and constitutional legitimacy. The initiators of the amendments need to confidently explain them through public arguments.
For example, if the establishment of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in Shanghai is considered the founding of the Republic of Korea, the historical and political grounds behind that need to be explained. The founders only said that it was a provisional government, so there needs to be a justification for considering it the true founding of the Republic of Korea.
When the members of the nation are to be defined not as citizens but people, there should be reasons why the people who carry out their duties as members of the nation don’t need to be treated equally.
Local autonomy at the level of the federal system needs to be explained. The country can be travelled within a day and the interests of each region are structurally related.
It needs to be explained why the local autonomy should be at the provincial level, not the county, ward or district.
If the work of civil servants is considered the same as other workers, the people needs to be convinced about the new concept of labor and the difference between public and private actions. The president and the ruling party seem to think that human rights and equality can justify anything.
However, the meaning of those ideas are not self-evident. New constitutional amendments that can change the basis of the country and affect its future should not be proposed with the simplistic mantra “fair is fair.”
In human psychology, avoiding argument involves dogmatism. A conceited mindset always accompanies obsession with vested interests.
I suspect that this constitutional amendment is another attempt to serve the liberal camp’s vested interests.
JoongAng Ilbo, March 26, Page 34
The author is a professor emeritus at Ewha Womans University.