Go to contents

[Op-Ed] Single or Double Term Presidency?

Posted January. 28, 2010 08:53,   


The history of constitutional amendments in Korea is arguably a history of changes in administrations and rules on reelection of the president. President Rhee Syng-man wrote a bill on a constitutional amendment to allow a three-term presidency in 1954 and submitted it to the National Assembly. The bill was rejected, however, because the parliamentary vote failed to meet the required quorum of lawmakers. Though initially voted down, the bill was declared as having passed late by mathematically rounding off the quorum to the nearest integer. After a cabinet-style government was used by the Second Republic, the presidential system was reinstated and the U.S. system of a two-term presidency of four years each was adopted under the Third Republic.

After serving two four-year terms, President Park Chung-hee changed the Constitution to allow himself a third term. He later created the Constitution of Revitalizing Reform, lifted the restriction on reelection of the president, and introduced a six-year term. This led to the use of term “generalissimo” modeled after the Taiwanese presidential system. The presidential system then changed to a single seven-year term under the Fifth Republic. The single five-year term used now is the result of the 1987 democratization movement. At the time, rival parties agreed on a single term and cut the period from seven years to five years because the two four-year term system had brought about prolonged rule by one leader. Kim Young-sam and Kim Dae-jung, who were leading the then main opposition Democratic Unification Party, said the two four-year term presidency was good, but whoever is elected could the term to eight years. Recently, politicians have proposed the reintroduction of the two four-year term presidency.

Debate has flared up over U.S. President Barack Obama’s comment Monday that he would rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. Some say this was just political rhetoric he did not mean, while others interpret the comment as his commitment to push for reform without being swayed by popularity. His mention of a single term is interesting since a U.S. president who is reelected is considered successful. Of the country’s 43 presidents before Obama, only 18 won a second term.

President Lee Myung-bak said, “It is better to work based on belief as a single-term president” in expressing support for the single term. Both the single- and two-term presidential systems have advantages and disadvantages. Under a single term, the president can govern based on his or her belief and will, but could grow negligent in relations with the political cycle. With the two-term system, a president could grow more interested in staying popular and be easily lured into a populist ideology to win reelection, rather leading based on his or her belief and will.

Editorial Writer Lee Jin-nyong (jinnyong@donga.com)