It is safe to say that there is strong public consensus that the nation needs to rewrite the current Constitution, which was last revised three decades ago. One good case in point is a recent survey that found about 75 percent of Koreans want a revision.
A majority of Koreans believe that the current Constitution, which was written in the wake of the 1987 pro-democracy movement, is outdated.
The corruption scandal involving ousted President Park Geun-hye and her confidante Choi Soon-sil has also bolstered the belief that the Korean president wields too much power and that the Constitution should be amended to restrain this power.
The same survey, commissioned by the National Assembly speaker’s office, found that about 80 percent of the respondents wanted a new supreme law to curb the power of the president.
All major candidates in the May presidential election, including Moon Jae-in, supported a constitutional revision. Most of them also suggested that a national referendum for a new Constitution be held on the June 13 local election day next year.
On several occasions since his election, Moon reiterated his commitment to revising the supreme law by June next year. But he has yet to fulfill his promise to form an ad-hoc government panel aimed at gathering opinions from the public. The National Assembly’s special committee on constitutional revision has not started full operation either.
The issue has been put on the back burner, with both the president and the parliament preoccupied with hectic political business in the early days of the new administration.
Moon’s nomination of some controversial candidates to the Cabinet has pitted the ruling camp against the opposition. His push for reform and radical policy shifts -- such as the largest increase in the minimum wage and the shift away from nuclear power -- have also been dominating the political scene here.
Against this backdrop, it was timely for National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun -- a strong advocate of constitutional amendment -- to call attention to the issue on the occasion of Constitution Day this week.
Chung reaffirmed a road map that calls on the National Assembly to draw up a proposal for a new Constitution by the end of the year.
It would pave the way for the special committee to get feedback from the public and submit a final proposal to the Assembly in March. It should be approved by the Assembly in May if it is to be put to a referendum at the same time as the June 13 local elections.
Meeting the timeline will not be easy, considering the complexity of the work to be done and the divisiveness of the nation.
For instance, there are diverse views about which power structure the new Constitution should adopt. Moon proposed a four-year term for the presidency, which could be renewed once. This system used to be favored by a majority of people.
But the survey released by the speaker’s office showed that the most favored structure -- with a support rate of 46 percent -- is a dual executive system in which the president shares power with the prime minister. About 38 percent of people supported a presidential system and 13 percent preferred a parliamentary cabinet system.
In addition, there are many elements that should be included in the new Constitution: measures to curtail the power of the president, the devolution of more power to local governments and strengthening the protection of basic rights, to name a few.
Some also suggest constitutional amendment should be coupled with the rezoning of parliamentary electoral districts.
All in all, the time left for the work to amend the Constitution is not sufficient. The National Assembly ought to speed up discussions. President Moon should be the prime mover of the national task that we cannot afford to delay any longer.