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(EDITORIAL from Korea Herald on Dec. 12)

All News 07:00 December 12, 2017

Get the job done
National Assembly should speed up work to revise the Constitution

The ad-hoc parliamentary panel to revise the Constitution plans to work out its proposal by February. In all likelihood, it is going to be a tall order.

The biggest hurdle is the partisan standoff over some of the key clauses of a new Constitution, including those on the power structure and form of government.

The ruling Democratic Party upholds President Moon Jae-in’s proposal to adopt a presidential system in which the chief executive is allowed to serve up to two consecutive four-year terms.

But both the two major opposition parties – the Liberty Korea Party and the People’s Party -- prefer a semipresidential system in which a president elected in a popular vote shares power with a prime minister chosen by the parliament.

Both systems have their own merits and demerits, and the rival parties’ arguments reflect their own political interests. For instance, the ruling party’s insistence on the presidential system may well be based on their optimism that it would be able to retain power in the next presidential election.

What’s advantageous to the ruling party is that Koreans generally favor a presidential system. A recent public opinion survey found that 34.8 percent of its respondents supported the ruling party’s proposal. But 33.4 percent -- a very close percentage to the first group -- wanted to preserve the current presidential system in which the chief executive serves a single five-year term.

This goes against the presumption that the disgraced fall of former President Park Geun-hye has strengthened the negative public perception of the current power structure.

It seems it was against the same backdrop that only 16.5 percent of the survey respondents chose a semipresidential system as the best form of government for the country.

But experts have a different view. Seven of the 11 members sitting on a subpanel of the parliamentary committee on Constitutional revision opted for a semi-presidential system, obviously drawn by its merit for curbing the power of the president. The other four members were split between a four-year, two-term presidency and a parliamentary cabinet system.

The discrepancy between the results of the public survey and the vote by the subpanel on power structure attests to the difficult task of finding the best form of government for the country.

The task, of course, lies with political parties. The biggest obstacle for a political agreement is the Liberty Korea Party leader Hong Joon-pyo, who reversed his election promise on a Constitutional amendment. Now he says, putting a new Constitution to a national referendum on the local election day will interfere with the voters’ choices for local community leaders.

Hong is not entirely wrong in arguing that a Constitutional amendment may have an impact on each party’s chances in the quadrennial polls, but that could not justify his ill-advised opposition to the proposal to time the vote on the Constitutional revision for the election day.

Hong should also be reminded that the reason many people support the proposal to get the revision done on the election day is that many past attempts to revise the outdated Constitution have failed. If the nation fails to do its job again, the work to revise the Constitution may take several more years.

In this regard, the ruling Democratic Party did well to designate this and the coming weeks as “weeks for intensive discussions on Constitutional amendment” and hold successive forums with lawmakers.

The push for Constitutional amendment also got a boost by the launch last week of a national campaign to rewrite the Constitution to guarantee decentralization. The campaign, spearheaded by local administrators and local council members across the country, plans to collect 10 million signatures. These political and public endeavors to pressure the political parties -- especially the Liberty Korea Party -- should be cheered on.

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