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S. Korea's presidential candidates eye constitutional reforms

All Headlines 17:34 November 01, 2012

SEOUL, Nov. 1 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's presidential candidates are weighing the option of using constitutional reforms as a tool to win public support ahead of the December election.

Ruling Saenuri Party hopeful Park Geun-hye's campaign staff on Thursday confirmed that they are examining the feasibility of changing the present Constitution that many think is outdated and fails to reflect political developments made since 1987.

Sources said that talks have centered on allowing future presidents to serve two four-year terms in office, introducing a bicameral legislative system to enhance the rights of provinces, and adding clauses to further enhance basic rights. At present, the country's chief executive can only serve a single five year term.

"Park does not oppose Constitutional reforms and since the opposition party has brought up the issue first it is a topic that can be touched on in the election year," said Ahn Dae-hee, head of Saenuri's political reforms special committee.

Others in the party said that Park has repeatedly made clear that she advocates a two-term presidential system, and hinted that rewriting the country's top legal document could divert public attention from expected efforts by liberal contenders to reach an agreement on fielding a single candidate for the Dec. 19 poll.

Main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) candidate Moon Jae-in and independent hopeful Ahn Cheol-soo trail Park in a three-way race. This makes it imperative for them to reach an agreement on a single candidacy if they want to compete at all with the conservative politician.

"Because the single candidacy process is expected to generate considerable public attention, bringing up constitutional reforms could draw attention to Park," a party official said. He, however, clarified that Park may not be overly interested in changing the Constitution at this juncture given the sharp contraction of the national economy.

The DUP's candidate said earlier that he preferred a two-term presidency that includes a vice president. At present, the country has a prime minister who acts as the president's deputy.

Political watchers said that Moon and the DUP may use the constitutional reform issue and the potential weakening or sharing of executive power, to help secure a single candidacy with Ahn.

The human rights lawyer-turned-politician had hinted that the loser in the single candidacy race can be named prime minister if the liberal side wins.

Most political watchers said Moon and Ahn will have to decide on a single candidate before Nov. 25-26, when all candidates must officially register with the National Election Commission. If both register, it will become harder for either side to quit.

Independent candidate Ahn, meanwhile, has been reserved about changing the Constitution at this juncture.

"Such a process requires nationwide consensus," an aide said. He added that there has been no serious debate on this issue within the election camp.

Ahn, the founder of AhnLab, the country's largest anti-virus software company, on the other hand, has stressed the need to limit the power of the executive office.

Aside from the constitutional standoff, Saenuri and DUP lawmakers locked horns over the enhancement of voting rights, which can affect voter turnout on the election day.

Saenuri said that the matter needs to be discussed in the larger context of enhancing accessibility that covers not only longer voting hours, but increasing the number of polling booths and coming up with ways to help people who are too infirm to cast their ballots.

"Because it is a legislative process, the matter should not be handled by election campaigners and candidates, but by parliament following due process," said party spokesman Park Sun-kyoo.

In response, the DUP said that the ruling party should accept longer voting hours because it can enhance the rights of people to pick the country's next president.

"Such a move is the right course of action," said DUP party spokesman Park Yong-jin.

He, moreover, pointed out that Moon on Wednesday accepted Saenuri's calls for returning state money given to political parties that field a candidate.

At present, a political party that fields a presidential candidate is entitled to election subsidies proportional to how many seats it has in parliament, but it is not obliged to return the money if its contender quits midway through the race.


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