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Moon reaffirms election pledge to revise Constitution next year

President Moon Jae-in on Thursday reaffirmed his election campaign pledge to rewrite the Constitution by next year to strengthen regional autonomy and citizens' fundamental rights.

His government is currently pushing for a referendum on the revision of the decades-old Constitution in tandem with the local elections slated for next June, amid parliamentary panel discussions on the highly divisive issue.

"The pledge to time a plebiscite to coincide with next year's local elections remains unchanged," Moon said during a press conference marking the 100th day since he took office after a rare by-election triggered by the March ouster of corruption-tainted President Park Geun-hye.

President Moon Jae-in speaks during a press conference at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Aug. 17, 2017. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in speaks during a press conference at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Aug. 17, 2017. (Yonhap)

"There is no reason why we can't revise it at least for enhanced regional autonomy and fundamental rights, whether (the revision) is pushed through a parliamentary panel or a special government body," he added, noting an already sufficient consensus over the issues.

However, he noted the need for more discussions on how to retool the current governing structure, which concentrates state power in a single national leader, which has long been blamed for intense political polarization and corruption.

Launched in December, the parliamentary panel is currently discussing how to amend the basic law, which critics say has failed to embrace social and political changes that have transpired since its last revision was made in 1987 to largely prevent authoritarian rulers from prolonging their presidencies.

During his campaign, Moon called for changing the current single-term, five-year presidency into a four-year presidency that allows for a re-election, limited to two terms. He said the change would help ensure consistent policy implementation with long-term visions.

Tabling the proposal for a constitutional revision requires backing from a majority of the 299 lawmakers. The parliamentary passage needs support from two-thirds of the total legislators, while the final revision has to win majority support in a referendum involving a majority of eligible voters.

President Moon Jae-in attends a press conference at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Aug. 17, 2017. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in attends a press conference at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae in Seoul on Aug. 17, 2017. (Yonhap)

During the press conference, Moon also touched on his government's policy shift toward non-nuclear, clean and renewable energy sources, which has stoked fears about a hefty rise in electricity prices and a potential power shortage. He stressed he would not push for any "precipitous" change.

"The designed life cycles of the nuclear reactors that have recently started operating or are under construction are 60 years, meaning any nuclear power phase-out scheme would take more than 60 years," he said.

"During this period of time, it is not difficult to find alternative energy sources, and this would not cause an upsurge in electricity prices either," he added.

Moon also defended the ongoing process to gauge public opinion over the now-suspended construction of two reactors in the southern city of Ulsan, saying it is an "appropriate" procedure to build social consensus. 

Asked about opposition parties' criticism about his drive to eliminate the "accumulated ills" of past governments, he stressed it aims to build a "more just, fairer" society.

Moon has pushed for the drive to redress social and political problems that came to a head following a massive corruption scandal involving the ousted former leader. Critics, however, have called it "political retribution."

"The push to remove the evils is intended to do away with unfair practices and privileges," he said. "It does not target specific cases or groups."

The president also brushed aside the criticism that he has appointed top officials largely from within his inner circles rather than introducing fresh faces.

"I believe citizens have held positive views, calling my personnel appointments the most balanced and integrative," he said.

The president, in addition, warned of "much more stringent" measures if the recently rolled-out scheme to tame an overheated real estate market does not work properly. The scheme includes increasing capital gains taxes on multiple-home owners, restricting the resell of purchase rights of new apartments and zoning some affluent districts in Seoul for tougher anti-speculation regulations.

Political parties showed mixed reactions to the press conference.

The ruling Democratic Party gave a rave review, casting it as part of Moon's ongoing efforts to strengthen communication with the public. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party, however, criticized it as being replete with self-praise and lacking substance. (Yonhap)