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Opportune time to discuss constitutional amendment

Posted February. 08, 2013 05:49,   


Many Koreans say they support the idea of a constitutional amendment since a senior member of the ruling Saenuri Party told The Dong-A Ilbo Wednesday that he will raise the topic for public discussion after the launch of the new government. Rep. Lee Jae-oh posted on Twitter, “After the Lunar New Year`s holiday, a group of lawmakers will begin to work on a constitutional amendment to separate the president`s power because discussion of the amendment will most likely be impossible once the new government begins its term.” Rep. Park Gi-chun, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic United Party, said in a plenary session of the National Assembly, “The focal point of political renovation is to divide and distribute the absolute power of the president. I propose a special parliamentary commission for a constitutional amendment in the interest of new politics.”

The call for a constitutional amendment has been brought up through a variety of channels, and an overall consensus has been reached in the political circle. Discussion of the issue, however, has made no progress because of suspected timing complications or political interests. For example, former President Roh Moo-hyun toward the end of his term proposed to reset the power structure through constitutional reform, but his idea was rejected because of allegations of being crafted to influence the 2007 presidential election. Under the term of outgoing President Lee Myung-bak, his confidants once pushed for the amendment but failed because of the suspicion of trying to undermine the influence of Park Geun-hye and her political clan. When it comes to a constitutional amendment, timing and motivation as well as content are important. Getting the people’s consensus is another point not to be overlooked.

Now is the right time to discuss constitutional reform because the presidential election is over, but the new government has yet to begin its term. President-elect Park pledged in her election campaign pushing for a constitutional amendment through in-depth discussions on topics such as two-term presidency of four years each and strengthening the right to live. The amendment proposal has again been brought up and now seems the right time to seriously discuss the matter through a parliamentary bipartisan commission rather than letting the discussion continue disorganized. The Constitution is likely to be amended in the first half of a president’s term because looking back, discussion on constitutional revision is closed entering the second half of a term or when prominent presidential candidates emerge.

Amended after the 1987 democratization movement, the Constitution is focused on preventing the long-term seizure of power by one leader. The five-year, single term of the chief executive is a case in point. Over the past 26 years, this goal has been achieved through two changes of power between conservative and liberal parties. On the other hand, the limits of the Constitution have also grown apparent. For example, the president wields imperial power but nothing prevents him or her from not assuming responsibility for his or her decisions. This is why calls are growing to amend the system into a two-term presidency of four years each, a decentralized presidential system and a dual government format of the parliamentary system. The country`s presidential, parliamentary, and municipal and provincial elections are held separately, causing an economic burden on taxpayers. If this problem is fixed, there is no reason not to amend the Constitution.

As the Constitution forms the foundation of a country, it must not be changed frequently. A country`s laws, however, should also not be too old to reflect the trends of the times. Discussion on a constitutional amendment should be forward-looking into the 21st century, including consideration of the potential reunification of the two Koreas. Both the ruling and opposition parties have the responsibility to study what the country needs and to present a concrete plan on that to the people.