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Background and Prospect behind President Roh’s Remark

Posted August. 27, 2005 03:01,   


President Roh Moo-hyun’s remark on August 25 that “he will consider totally giving up his presidential power” is the most controversial remark he has made thus far.

President Roh has proposed other controversial ideas at the risk of his presidency such as suggesting an idea of a plebiscite of re-confidence when the 2002 illegal campaign fund scandal emerged in October 2003. The president has made extreme remarks several times that “he feels a sense of crisis that it would be difficult to administer state affairs in his capacity as president” and that “he is willing to retire from the political sector.”

However, the context of the recent remarks that he will turn over his powers by forming a grand coalition government is different from that of his previous remarks in that they have shown his willingness to make a breakthrough in critical situations.

When the president first suggested the idea of a grand coalition with the main opposition Grand National Party (GNP) on July 28, he said, “My proposal is a de facto transfer of regime. Regarding the specific method to devolve his powers, however, the president explained, “I will turn over my presidential power to parties that join a grand coalition to a level of a parliamentary cabinet system.”

For example, after appointing GNP Chairwoman Park Geun-hye as prime minister, the GNP and the ruling Uri Party join the Cabinet together. In other words, the president’s plan was to divide the regime.

However, the president’s remark on August 25 means that he will hand over all of his power to opposition parties. The president made it clear that he did not utter this idea off the cuff.

During an appearance on a KBS-TV debate program, President Roh said, “I am concerned about the current situation because I cannot seek a re-confidence by dismissing the National Assembly and carrying out a general election as a parliamentary cabinet system does, as well as I cannot give up my power abruptly in accordance with my approval rating shown by public opinion polls.” This shows that the president has already reviewed specific plans to devolve all of his power.

The fact that president often remarks that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently dismissed a parliament and carried out a general election as their silver bullet is in line with his idea to give up his power.

In response, Cheong Wa Dae officials said, “The president’s remark is not to merely stress his willingness, and we are not reviewing specific methods over his idea at all.”

However, under the Korea’s Constitution adopting a presidential system, the only method to turn over all of one’s presidential power to opposition parties is for a president to step down from one’s post and conduct a presidential election.

Accordingly, some ruling Uri Party members speculate that the president appears to be mindful of an early constitutional amendment. They expect that the president will finally suggest an idea of amending the constitution to a parliamentary government while continuing to insist on a grand coalition government until the end of this year.

Concerning this controversy, Jang Young-soo, a professor in the law department at Korea University noted, “Even if it is not problematic for the president to hand over his power by stepping down and carrying out a presidential election, it is unconstitutional to transfer his power to opposition parties under the current situation,” adding, “If the president wants to achieve his plan at all costs, he must amend the constitution.”

Jung-Hun Kim jnghn@donga.com