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Ruling Party Split Over Constitutional Amendment

Posted September. 17, 2009 08:37,   


○ Dispute over timing

Debate is flaring within the ruling Grand National Party over whether now is the right time to seek a constitutional amendment.

Party floor leader Ahn Sang-soo, a supporter of President Lee Myung-bak who backs the amendment, said, “A constitutional amendment is a must in this era, a measure that is supported by 70-80 percent of the people. As for the power structure, the separation of power is a buzzword of this era.”

“We will form a special party committee on the constitutional amendment at an early date.”

Rep. Kim Young-sun, a member of the pro-Park Geun-hye faction, disagreed, however. “If the debate begins immediately, it could spawn internal party conflict,” adding, “Some could criticize that the political circle is staging a political game. Hence, it is necessary that we conduct thorough research and take our time.”

Rep. Kim Moo-sung added, “The floor leader seeks to push ahead what President Lee proposed through the party’s general assembly as if the suggestion is the party’s platform. But we need a considerate and strategic approach.”

Rep. Kong Sung-jin from the pro-Lee faction said, “Former President Roh Moo-hyun’s bid for a one-point constitutional amendment failed because the proposal came toward the end of his term and thus failed to gather momentum.”

“If we start the debate right now, we could complete the amendment by the end of next year.”

Floor leader Ahn said, “We are holding under-the-table discussions over the constitutional amendment,” adding, “If we hold a general assembly of Grand National Party lawmakers and the majority supports, we can set up a special committee on the constitutional amendment. Then, opposition parties will join in the debate.”

In response to President’s Lee’s comment on the amendment Tuesday, the main opposition Democratic Party showed a cynical response, saying, “His comments do not sound serious.”

Certain Democratic Party lawmakers agreed on the need for an amendment internally, but the party is worried that political debate over it could overwhelm other political issues and reduce the significance of the party’s presence.

○ Debate over scope

The presidential office said, “President Lee’s comments on the constitutional amendment are a basic suggestion based on the practical recognition that the political circle needs to mend things that can be revised first.”

President Lee is said to believe that the single-term presidency of five years entails many problems. He also stressed the need to coincide the presidential election with local and general elections as he proposed in his Aug. 15 speech for Liberation Day.

On a reshuffle of the power structure, a consensus on the need for the constitutional amendment is being formed to a considerable extent within the ruling party.

Party members, however, have conflicting views on the method of change that only involves transforming the power structure as suggested by President Lee. His supporters generally support his suggestion, but the pro-Park faction, which is concerned with the power structure under the next president, is largely cautious.

Ostensibly, the pro-Lee and pro-Park factions have different views, but lawmakers within the pro-Lee faction doubt the practicability of a constitutional amendment that simply involves changing the power structure. They indicate that the debate itself could face limits without the pro-Park faction’s support considering that an amendment requires two-thirds approval by lawmakers.

With former Grand National Party leader Park considered a strong candidate as the next president, analysts say her supporters generally oppose to debate on an amendment that calls for distributing the president’s powers.

The minor conservative Liberty Forward Party wants an “extensive constitutional amendment.”

Party chairman Lee Hoi-chang said in a meeting of the party’s top five officials, “An amendment must be extensive if it is to be done at all. If done on a small scale, the Constitution is better as is.”

“Since the constitutional amendment process is complicated and requires a major national event, including a public vote, seeking a one-point constitutional amendment is not right.”

○ Shorter presidential term?

As President Lee suggested, changing the power structure and coinciding the schedules for the presidential, local and general elections are sensitive issues. If the Constitution is revised to introduce a two-term four-year presidential system before next year, his term must be reduced by nine months to have the general elections coincide with the 2012 presidential election.

Political insiders say the ruling camp will hardly be in a position to accept the requirement. Moreover, the debate will grow more complicated if reshuffling the electoral constituency system is pursued in conjunction with the amendment, assuming that the ruling party gives up several of its privileges.

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