Stopping the imperial presidencyOpposition People Power Party (PPP) presidential candidate Yoon Suk-yeol reportedly plans to launch a committee to reduce the power of the president for people’s sake. The committee seeks to embody the goal by making a “smaller Blue House.” In Korean politics, so-called “imperial presidency” and a critical lack of co-governance with the opposition have been singled out as a big problem. We hope the launch of the committee will help find an answer to the national challenge.
Our Constitution stipulates the separation of powers among the legislative, judiciary and executive branches of the government. But the Blue House has long dominated national governance in this country. The presidential office often forced the ruling party to take sides with the president at the risk of violent clashes with opposition parties. As divisive politics based on exploitation of ideological, regional, generational and gender conflicts intensified national division, presidential elections degenerated into a life-and-death battle every five years.
In his inaugural address in 2017, President Moon Jae-in pledged to become a “president for all, who shares his imperial power and communicate with people.” After four and half years, however, his administration is ridiculed for being a “Blue House government.” The damages from the almighty presidency are expected to grow in the next administration. If a new president is sworn in May, he has to deal with the current National Assembly for the first two years of his five-year term. If the ruling Democratic Party (DP) with 200 seats in the 300-member legislature wins in the election, the DP can legislate whatever the new president wants for at least two more years. But if the opposition People Power Party (PPP) with 105 seats wins in the presidential election, the PPP will face serious trouble passing bills.
To avoid such a crisis, Yoon and his rival Lee Jae-myung from the DP must immediately start serious discussions on downsizing the presidential power and establishing a model for co-governance. If they turn away from the debate, the dark history of the imperial presidency will be repeated as seen in the past seven presidential elections since the democratization of 1987.
Yoon came up with promises to abolish the mighty senior presidential secretary for civil affairs and restrict presidential power. But he stopped short of discussing a Constitutional revision to change our current power structure. DP candidate Lee promised to limit legislative immunity for lawmakers, but did not present a blueprint to scale back the presidential office. We urge the two candidates to discuss desirable ways to trim the powerful Blue House.