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Moon should reach out to opposition over constitution reform

An editorial in the Korea Herald argues that constitution reform measures are not inclusive enough.


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Updated: March 23, 2018

The latest developments surrounding constitutional amendment show politicians in this country are prioritizing their own partisan interests over the nation.

Blame for the current situation should foremost go to the National Assembly, which has failed to work out a bill after more than one year of discussions.

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party should also take the blame as it has opposed the timetable and dragged its feet, ignoring its agreement to put a constitutional revision bill to a national referendum alongside the June 13 local elections.

The party’s about-face is linked to its strategy for the upcoming elections, as it believes that holding a referendum simultaneously with the local elections would raise the voter turnout rate and therefore work against the conservative party. The assumption is based on past election data, which showed that the turnout rate of young voters who tend to have liberal views is lower than that of older generations.

It is true that the Liberty Korea Party’s tactics have frustrated President Moon Jae-in, who, along with other major candidates in last May’s presidential election, promised to finish rewriting the outdated supreme law by the next local elections.

It is also true that the president, as well as a majority of National Assembly members, is entitled to propose a bill to amend the Constitution. Whoever writes the bill, it has to earn a yes vote from two-thirds of National Assembly members, and then support from a majority of voters in a national referendum.

But it is wrong for Moon to try to push ahead with constitutional amendment based only on his own proposal.

When he said he would prepare his own bill, many thought that he did it with an intent to pressure the National Assembly to hasten its work. That view was strengthened by the fact that the ruling party, which holds only 121 seats at the 293-member National Assembly, cannot get a bill through the National Assembly without the consent of opposition parties.

But Moon is ignoring the reality. According to his aides, the president plans to submit the bill to the National Assembly on Monday.

All opposition parties oppose the plan. Even the Justice Party, which is closest to the ruling Democratic Party on the ideological spectrum, opposes constitutional revision based on a bill proposed by the president.

What is worse is that Cheong Wa Dae has begun an all-out publicity campaign for the bill prepared by a presidential advisory panel, even though it has little possibility of obtaining parliamentary endorsement.

Moreover, it is questionable that Cheong Wa Dae released key elements of the bill over three days, not all at once. Officials said outlining the bill in three parts in as many days was aimed at increasing public interest toward the bill and constitutional revision. That seemed to be nothing but a propaganda tactic.

With the bill having near-zero possibility of being passed by the National Assembly, it might be meaningless to carry out in-depth discussions about its key elements. However, the bill is still sparking controversy.

Components of the presidential bill that sparked the most heated debates include the inclusion of past pro-democracy movements, such as the May 18, 1980 Gwangju uprising, in the preamble of the Constitution; the expansion of labor rights; opening the way for the designation of an administrative capital; and the introduction of public ownership of land.

One of the most controversial issues pertains to power structure, for which Moon’s bill calls for a presidential system in which the president is allowed to have up to two four-year terms.

The Liberty Korea Party opposes the idea for its lack of measures to curb the power of the president. The opposition party prefers a semipresidential system in which power is shared between a president elected by popular vote and a prime minister picked by the parliament.

All these point to the reality that there is little chance of Moon’s bill being passed by the National Assembly. Considering the circumstances, the best way to accomplish the mission to change the outdated basic law is for Moon to reach out to the opposition and work out a realistic compromise on how and when to finish the work.

(This article originally appeared in the Korea Herald)



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