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‘Lee to stay away from constitutional revision’

President’s key supporter calls for parliamentary move on amendment to basic law


President Lee Myung-bak feels an urgent need to revise the country’s decades-old Constitution but believes the issue is up to the parliament and not his office, his spokesperson has said.

The issue of redrawing the Constitution, created in 1987, has sparked political disputes here, especially as the move could change the political landscape ahead of big elections such as the presidential election next year.

Lee’s party wants to begin discussing the issue within his term. Opposition parties, howerer claim discussions should start under the next administration, not wanting the conservative ruling bloc to accomplish their longstanding national goal and win public approval.

“The president has already expressed his belief in the need of revising the Constitution, but it is up to the National Assembly whether to take up on such wishes,” presidential spokesperson Kim Hee-jung said in a radio interview Monday.

The presidential office “has no plans to directly table the motion” to change the Constitution, Kim added.

“It is important for the parliament to do the job as the representative of the general public,” she said. 
President Lee Myung-bak holds a meeting with his senior aides at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap News)
President Lee Myung-bak holds a meeting with his senior aides at Cheong Wa Dae on Monday. (Yonhap News)

Legislators generally agree on the need to change the Constitution by redrawing electoral and administrative districts to overcome longstanding regionally skewed voting patterns.

But they are largely divided over the timing of the revision, as well as ways to replace the current single five-year term of the president with a four-year term and the chance of re-election. Such moves could immediately influence the power balance between rival political forces.

Meanwhile, Special Affairs Minister and President Lee’s staunchest supporter Lee Jae-oh called on his party members to make a unified effort to move discussions on constitutional revision forward.

“Once all parties agree to submit the constitutional amendment bill and put it to a referendum within a month, there is more than enough time to revise the laws,” he said in a speech given for a Grand National Party-organized forum.

“It is never too late. This year is actually a prime time to carry out all the necessary political reforms.”

Constitutional revision can be put to a national referendum after more than two-thirds of National Assembly members approve the bill.

The governing GNP currently controls 171 seats in the 299-member unicameral parliament.

Ruling party lawmakers who support the president are keen to revise the law immediately, believing the current presidential system must be changed on Lee’s watch to avoid the state leader being seen as a lame duck.

Although the changed laws will only take effect after Lee leaves office, the incumbent leader would likely wield influence over the direction of the amendment.

A rival ruling party faction supporting Park Geun-hye, a former GNP chairwoman considered as the strongest contender the 2012 presidential race, is less keen on the issue, suspecting that Lee’s supporters want to increase their political influence ahead of the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Park, daughter of the late President Park Chung-hee, campaigned against Lee for the ruling party’s ticket in the 2007 presidential race, and is a rare political figure who enjoys steady support from different age and provincial groups. She currently leads a third of the ruling party lawmakers.

Noting the internal split, Minister Lee called on his party members to “work as one body” on the issue.

“It is up to our party to improve the political system by reforming the election laws and redrawing electoral districts. We do not have time to argue among ourselves when the country is dealing with so many problems,” he said.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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