Moon Jae-in, the presidential candidate of the main opposition Democratic United Party, said in his Sept. 16 acceptance speech that he would divide the power of the presidency by giving more power to the prime minister. This was after Moon proposed to independent candidate Ahn Cheol-soo forming a coalition government. Ahn is known to be drawing up a power-sharing plan under which the president will be in charge of future visions for the state, reunification, diplomacy and national defense, while the prime minister takes care of all other administrative affairs. Saying the plan is being freely discussed and not concluded yet, Ahn indicated that the report was not completely unfounded.
The Constitution says governing power belongs to the administration headed by the president. It also stipulates that the prime minister assists the president and leads the administration by order of the latter. The Constitution makes it clear that the chief executive is responsible for state administration. Therefore, a system in which the prime minister takes the responsibility for state administration is impossible without a constitutional amendment. Even if power is shared between the president and prime minister without violating the Constitution, the president should take the ultimate responsibility.
Announcing his policy visions Sunday, Ahn said that if elected president, he would exercise the presidential right of pardon by seeking parliamentary consent. He seems to lack understanding of this right, which is divided into the two categories of general pardon and special pardon. A general pardon requires parliamentary consent. If Ahn was referring to a special pardon, which does not need parliamentary consent, he is out of touch with reality. If a special pardon is subject to parliamentary consent, political parties will be unrelenting in trying to get their people on the pardon list.
Ahn has also pledged to reduce the number of posts, which is more than 10,000, which the president has the power to make appointments directly or indirectly. The presidency supervises national administration through personnel appointments and assumes all responsibility for the results. If the president hands over his right to make appointments to other institutions, the posts will likely be more vulnerable to pressure or lobbying from lawmakers. Ahn`s proposals to allow Supreme Court justices to nominate a candidate for chief justice and to let the National Assembly recommend candidates for chairman of the Board of Audit and Inspection of Korea also undermine the principle of division of power as stipulated in the Constitution.
Presidents have often been called imperial or almighty. Such expressions, however, would never have been used had presidents and parliament followed the Constitution. Both the president and the legislature can exercise their rights as much as the Constitution and the law allow. Moreover, the power of the National Assembly is growing stronger vis-a-vis that of the president. The idea of sharing or reducing presidential power is ignoring the Constitution. There is no other way but to view Ahns power-sharing proposal as lacking a sense of responsibility for the paramount importance of the presidency.