Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday revealed the first part of the government’s Constitution amendment bill that would strengthen the basic rights and power of the people.
“The amendment must be centered on the people,” Cho Kuk, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs, said in introducing the proposed changes, adding that the candlelight protests had shown the people’s desire for “direct democracy,” and the desire to exercise their sovereignty.
“Therefore, the amendment must be about expanding the rights of the people by guaranteeing quality of life, freedom and safety of the people, and expanding direct democracy.”
What the government referst to as “direct democracy,” grouped under “strengthening the people’s sovereignty” in Tuesday’s announcement, includes giving the public the right to propose bills, and to “summon parliamentarians that courts find guilty of wrongdoing.”
Saying that the current system allows lawmakers to avoid consequences of wrongdoings until they are removed from office, and that bills with wide public support have been passed over without being proposed, Cho highlighted that the proposed changes would address the shortcomings in the current system.
“For the first time in constitutional history, new clauses have been added to allow the people to summon lawmakers, and to propose bills, in accordance with the people’s demands,” Cho said.
“The expansion of direct democracy will supplement the representative system, and greatly contribute to the advancement of democracy.”
These changes, among others, will be included in the bill Cheong Wa Dae plans to submit to the National Assembly on Monday. The presidential office will also reveal elements of its bill concerning the strengthening of local governments on Wednesday, and those on government structure and the authority of government organizations will be made public Thursday.
Along with the changes aimed at increasing public participation in state affairs, Cheong Wa Dae’s bill would include phrases referring to past democracy movements, including that of Gwangju in 1980, and the 1987 movement led by students. According to Cho, the government’s proposal also includes new clauses on the rights of military personnel and animal rights.
Other major changes include replacing the term “citizens” with “people” in parts of the Constitution regarding basic rights, such as freedom of religion and the guarantee of equal rights.
However, the term “citizens” will be maintained in rights concerning vocations, rights to property, education and others regarding social welfare linked to economic and national security issues.
“The freedom of religion, conscience, in other words elements that do not require financial input, (these) are natural rights (that should be guaranteed) to every human,” Cho said, adding that the use of the word people would include foreigners, refugees and those without nationality while the term “citizens” limits such guarantees to Korean nationals.
He added that such rights come before the idea of state, and that the use of the word “people” has been limited to relevant clauses of the amendment bill.
New rights the government proposes to add include rights to life and rights to safety. The government also proposes inserting a clause that assigns the state a duty to protect citizens from danger and a duty to prevent disasters and accidents.
The bill would also see the insertion of a “basic information right” to strengthen the public’s right to know, and offer more protection on private information.
Aside from the additions, the bill would remove clauses deemed unnecessary or irrational, including those restricting soldiers and others defined by law from seeking compensation from the state, and those stating public prosecutors as the principal agent in seeking warrants.
Cho, however, said that the change regarding the prosecution does not affect current laws regarding the role of the prosecution, and that the removal of the clause is proposed based solely on the fact that it is not a matter for the constitution.
Cho said that the government would also see the word “worker” replaced with “laborer,” saying that the Korean word “worker” used in the current Constitution approaches labor issues from the point of view of employers.
In addition, changes stating that laborers and employers have equal rights, and that laborers have the right to take collective action to improve working conditions and to protect their rights are also included in the government’s bill.
At present, the Constitution limits rights to collective action in matters regarding working conditions.
The bill also calls for recognizing the labor rights of civil servants, with the exception of military personnel and others defined in related laws.
By Choi He-suk (firstname.lastname@example.org