The main opposition Liberty Korea Party on Friday unveiled its own road map for a constitutional amendment. The party suggested ruling and opposition parties work out a compromise bill on constitutional amendment by June. According to the road map, the party will seek to revise the Constitution with a focus on delegating much of presidential power to the prime minister.
The guideline reaffirms the party’s rejection of the timeline being pushed by President Moon Jae-in and the ruling party by which the National Assembly will work out a constitutional revision bill as early as possible so that it can be put to a national referendum at the same time as the June 13 local elections.
Three days earlier, a special presidential committee drafted a constitutional amendment and submitted it to Moon. Its suggestions include allowing a president to serve two successive four-year terms and adding an article stating that the capital of the country is determined according to related laws.
Moon is reportedly considering announcing his constitutional amendment bill to the media a day or two before he begins visits to Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates on March 22 and taking procedures to submit it to the National Assembly after March 28 when the visits end.
Moon is said to be determined to hold a constitutional amendment referendum and local elections simultaneously. He also reportedly considers explaining and publicizing his bill to the nation before sending it to the parliament.
However, even if he sends his bill to the parliament, it will likely be voted down or scrapped, considering the prevailing negative view of a president-initiated constitutional revision in the opposition parties, which dominate the National Assembly.
Now that the Liberty Korea Party has unveiled its road map for constitutional amendment, though belatedly, minimum conditions have been established for the start of parliamentary debates on the matter.
Speaker Chung Sye-kyun also suggested that political parties put forth a constitutional amendment bill by June and then put it to a national referendum after the local elections.
For the present, this timeline is the best choice.
Rival parties may well set aside the issue of when to hold a referendum on constitutional changes, and begin shortly to discuss constitutional changes.
The Constitution can be best amended by the National Assembly, a representative body of the people. It is not desirable for a president to lead a constitutional amendment, especially so when the amendment aims at reducing his power.
If Moon rushes his constitutional amendment bill just to hold a referendum on it on the same day as the local elections, one cannot but suspect his political motives. The Constitution is the bedrock of a nation’s legal order and its systems. There can be no room for a hasty amendment.
Rival parties are short on time if they are to crank out a compromise on a constitutional amendment by June. This is why they should start debates on constitutional revision shortly and minimize the scope of the amendment. They ought to focus on ways to prevent pernicious effects of an excessive concentration of presidential power.
The issue of constitutional changes gained momentum after President Park Geun-hye was impeached in a massive corruption case. Tragically, all four living former presidents have been implicated in corruption scandals involving their families, aides and supporters.
Corruption and irregularities stemmed from an imperial presidency which gives a president nearly absolute authority over personnel and budgets of a wide array of public agencies and enterprises.
Controversial issues not directly related to presidential power, such as whether to erase the word “free” from “free democracy,” may as well be dealt with as long-term problems requiring sufficient discussion time.
It takes political judgement to strike a deal on such issues as power structure and electorate system, and so it would be effective to get the leadership of each party directly involved in negotiations on them from the beginning.
Among other things, rival parties must shed their partisan interests and amend the Constitution only for the sake of the nation.