As expected, power structure is emerging as one of the hottest topics in the discussions to revise the Constitution. Also obvious is that there are notable changes in the public and experts’ views of what would be the best one for the nation.
Since the republic was founded in 1948, Koreans have long been accustomed to the presidential system. Public opinion polls used to find that a majority of Koreans favored the presidential system.
The tendency to preserve the presidential system had been maintained even when calls began mounting to amend the supreme law to reflect the changes of the past decades.
The overriding concern for the authors of the current Constitution, a result of the 1987 pro-democracy movement, was to end the vicious circle of dictatorships that had plagued the nation for decades. As a result, it stipulated a presidential system in which the president is allowed to serve only a five-year single term.
As Korea had already achieved full democracy to the degree that it need not worry about military intervention in politics and unlawful extension of power, calls have been mounting to switch up the nation’s power structure.
The most favored proposal has been to allow the president to serve up to two consecutive four-year terms. President Moon Jae-in and his ruling party also prefer the scheme.
But the massive corruption and influence-peddling scandal involving ousted former President Park Geun-hye changed the public and political perception of what power structure would be best for the nation.
An opinion poll conducted last month found that 49 percent of Koreans prefer a dual executive system in which the president and prime minister share power. About 37 percent would opt for a presidential system and 12 percent picked a parliamentary cabinet system.
Polls also show that about 80 percent of Koreans want to curb the power of the chief executive if the Constitution prescribes a presidential system. All these tell you that Park’s abuse of her presidential power for the personal gains of her confidante Choi Soon-sil pushed Korea away from a system that gives strong power to the president.
As if reflecting the latest trend, a majority of the members of an advisory panel to the National Assembly Special Committee picked the dual executive system as their choice for the new power structure to be included in the new Constitution.
Six of the 11 members, mostly law scholars, chose the dual executive system -- also known as the semipresidential system -- while two each picked the presidential system and the parliamentary cabinet system. The 11th member was undecided between the dual executive system and parliamentary cabinet system.
What distinguishes the panel members’ proposal for the dual executive system from past iterations is that the prime minister would be elected by the National Assembly, not -- as the current Constitution stipulates -- nominated by the president and endorsed by the Assembly.
The panel plans to submit its final report Thursday, but their discussions so far clearly show that the dual executive system is emerging as the prevailing proposal.
But even if the National Assembly accepted the panel’s recommendation for the dual executive system, there should be more issues to be discussed, including what power and authority each of the president and the prime minister would have.
If Moon and the ruling Democratic Party stick to the presidential system, it also could impede the work of the Special Committee, which plans to work out a parliamentary proposal by March and put it to a full vote by no later than May 24 so that it can be put to a national referendum at next year’s June 13 local elections.
Extra attention is needed, especially from Moon and parliamentary leaders, to speed up the discussions, not only on the power structure, but also other potentially contentious issues like decentralization and protection of basic rights.