Published : 2013-02-11 20:21
Updated : 2013-02-11 20:21
Momentum is building for discussing changes in the Constitution, which was last amended in 1987. In his parliamentary speech last week, the floor leader of the main opposition Democratic United Party called for a bipartisan committee to handle the issue of rewriting the basic law. A spokesman for the ruling Saenuri Party responded positively to the proposal.
Rep. Park Ki-choon, the DUP whip, suggested changing the Constitution to disperse powers concentrated on the president, which he said were “at the center of political conflicts.”
During her campaign for last December’s presidential election, President-elect Park Geun-hye of the Saenuri Party said that she would consider revising the Constitution during her presidency, if public consensus was formed. Her rival candidate from the DUP, Rep. Moon Jae-in, also made a similar pledge. At the time, they were not so specific on details of the constitutional revision, but made clear their preference for changing the presidential tenure from the current single five-year term to two four-year terms.
Progress in the constitutional discussion is likely to depend on how willing Park will be to push for it after she takes office on Feb. 25. Understandably, she may be concerned that the debate would overshadow her other key policy agenda.
But it should also be taken into account that the possibility of achieving constitutional revision is higher during an early phase of the presidency.
Outgoing President Lee Myung-bak and his predecessor Roh Moo-hyun proposed revising the Constitution in the latter part of their term. Despite some merit, their proposals met an unenthusiastic response, with the public regarding them as politically motivated. There would be no reason for Park to follow this path, if she agrees on the need to change the basic law to fit the demand of the times.
The Constitution has been amended nine times since it was first promulgated in 1948, three years after the nation was liberated from Japanese colonial rule. Minimizing changes in the basic law is certainly desirable for ensuring a stable constitutional order and nine amendments in 64 years may well be considered quite frequent.
Nevertheless, our view is that there is a need to revise the Constitution, especially to alter the presidential term to be more suitable for political and social conditions that have changed over the 25 years since its latest amendment as a result of a long pro-democracy movement.
Its limitation of the presidential tenure to a single five-year term reflected the public trauma from previous presidents’ attempts to extend their rule by oppressive means. Now, our attention should be paid to the problems the single five-year term has caused.
With a second presidential bid barred, a president tends to lose his grip on power early, while people around him are likely to be tempted into hurrying to secure personal interests.
Presidents have also focused on things that can be accomplished in a single term, making it hard to draw up and implement policies from a long-term perspective. This tendency can be problematic, especially in dealing with North Korea at a time when Pyongyang’s leadership itself remains volatile.
Changing the presidential term could also increase political efficiency by making it possible to hold presidential, parliamentary and local elections at the same time.
It may be necessary to disperse presidential powers further by giving more authority to the parliament, the Cabinet and regional governments. In any case, however, a president should be mandated to exercise effective power to implement his or her duties especially in the fields of foreign affairs, defense and security.