The ruling Democratic Party of Korea, briefing its bill for constitutional amendment Thursday, announced it decided to revise “the basic free and democratic order,” a phrase in the Constitution, to “the democratic order.”
Its spokeswoman explained “democratic” is broader in meaning than “free and democratic.” Then, four hours later, after angry backlash from opposition parties and constitution scholars, the party decided to stay with the word “free,” saying it made a “mistake.”
Article 4 of Chapter 1 of the Constitution says, “The Republic of Korea shall seek unification and shall formulate and carry out a policy of peaceful unification based on the basic free and democratic order.”
“Free and democratic order” is a core value of the Republic of Korea that defines the identity a unified Korea must keep. Over the grave matter related to state identity, the party excused its “mistake” without an apology or convincing explanations. It is rash toward the Constitution.
The excuse does not quite make sense, considering the explanation of why “free” was deleted.
The Moon Jae-in administration reportedly seeks to delete “free” from “free democracy” in phrases explaining the identity of the Republic of Korea in middle and high school history textbooks.
It is questionable whether the erasure of “free” was really a mistake.
Many governments in the world claim to espouse democratic order of their own. Even the North Korean regime, which tramples the human rights of its residents, calls itself a “people’s democracy.”
The free democratic order, which is the state system of the Republic of Korea, is based on a free market economy and the freedom of the people.
The Constitutional Court explains free democratic order in a sense that the Constitution does not accept a unified Korea under a dictatorship, a single party system or North Korea’s governing ideology. The word “free” is indispensable to distinguish constitutionally acceptable democracy from other forms of democracy, not to mention socialism and communism.
“Democratic order” not modified by the word “free” has been advocated by some liberal historians.
As explained by the party spokeswoman, it has a broader meaning than free democratic order. What liberal scholars mean by democratic order is that free democracy must not be accepted automatically as the political system of a unified Korea.
They contend that it should be chosen by the people including North Koreans from various types of democracy such as social democracy, democratic socialism and people’s democracy as well as free democracy.
But free democracy is the state identity an overwhelming majority of the people in South Korea believe they must never concede.
The system should not be disparaged just because past military dictatorships suppressed democratization movements under the pretext of protecting free democratic order. Few in the South apparently believe this political system may change after unification.
The ruling party’s bill “obligates” the state to regulate the economy for “economic democratization,” a concept of income redistribution and regulation against family-controlled large businesses called chaebol. The current Constitution “suggests” state regulation for economic democratization.
Another concept that private possession and disposal of land can be restricted properly for public interests was strengthened in the bill, which specified related state duties.
These can be understood as an attempt to ease economic inequality, but even so, if obligatory state intervention in the economy is stipulated in the hard-to-amend constitution, the basis of a free market economy can be threatened. The bill cannot but face criticisms that it pursues a planned economy.
National consensus on the need to amend the Constitution is based on reflections on “imperial presidency,” which concentrates excessive power on president. The diffusion of presidential power is what the people demand.
However, the ruling party’s bill does not have specific amendments to that effect. It adopted a four-year presidential term with the possibility of a second term, but this has little to do with the decentralization of presidential power. Rather, it seems to strengthen state power.
The Constitution must be amended to decentralize presidential power. There is no need to raise other issues. And the Constitution would be better left as is if “free” will be out.