The already tough road to an early constitutional amendment is seeing more stumbling blocks appear, lessening the prospects for putting a revision bill to a national referendum alongside the June 13 local elections.
By all measures, it is highly likely the major political parties will fail to agree on an amendment bill any time before the next local election day.
The biggest stumbling block is the opposition of the Liberty Korea Party to the plan to hold a plebiscite for constitutional revision in tandem with local elections.
The opposition party, which had agreed with other major parties that a constitutional revision should be completed by then, has reversed its position because it believes the referendum could weaken its chances at the polls.
The party’s position seems to be affecting public opinion, as recent polls showed that although still a majority of Koreans want a new Constitution by the local election day, an increasing number of people do not insist on the date as an unbreakable deadline.
While the dispute over the deadline is no small obstacle, there are more, bigger hurdles on the road to a constitutional amendment: partisan, ideological disputes over key elements of the new basic law.
The Democratic Party of Korea and Liberty Korea Party already are confronting each other over to which power structure the new Constitution should prescribe. The ruling party wants to change the current five-year, single-term presidency into one in which the chief executive can serve up to two four-year terms, whereas the opposition party prefers a semipresidential system in which a president elected by popular vote and the prime minister chosen by the National Assembly split duties.
Given its sensitivity and political implications, the issue alone can thwart an early partisan compromise. A bigger cause for concern is that there are many more such highly contentious issues.
Then the advisory panel of the National Assembly Special Committee on Constitutional Amendment added fuel to the already intense partisan fights.
The advisory panel, which consists of 53 outside experts including law professors, worked out a draft of the new constitution recently. The problem is that some of the panel’s suggestions -- although they do not have any binding authority -- infringe upon the basic tenet of the Constitution, including free democracy and market economy.
For instance, the panel’s draft tampered with freedom and democracy, the republic’s basic founding principle as compared with social democracy or people’s democracy.
The draft changed the “basic free and democratic order” in the preamble of the supreme law to “free and equal democratic society.” It seems that equal has only been inserted to separate free and democratic.
The panel also changed part of Article 4 that deals with unification. The clause saying that peaceful unification should be based on the principles of “freedom and democracy” was changed into unification based on “democratic basic order.”
It is apparent that the advisory panel, whose mission is to help members of the parliamentary committee write a new Constitution beyond their partisan interests -- has tried to curry favor with the liberal government of President Moon Jae-in.
Besides the attempt to undermine free democracy, the advisory panel’s draft permits conscientious objection and repeals the death penalty. These too are in line with the position of progressive groups.
It is not strange for biased suggestions to face criticism from not only conservatives, but also scholars who point out that those matters need not be stipulated by the Constitution. It also should be noted that the Constitutional Court has already ruled that criminal punishment of conscientious objectors and the death penalty are constitutional.
The panel’s draft also included clauses that could hamper the principle of the market economy that has buttressed the nation’s economic development. There are obviously pro-labor clauses, including those to restrict layoffs and obligate hiring of regular workers.
All these may reflect the ruling camp and progressive forces’ wish to use the constitutional revision to shift the country further to the left on the ideological spectrum. The opposition and sensible members of society should guard against the move.