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Ending the imperial presidency

Mar 14,2018
The Blue House said Tuesday that President Moon Jae-in will propose an amendment to the Constitution. If that happens, it will mark the first administration-proposed constitutional amendment since 1980. But the possibility of the changes being passed by the National Assembly is nearly zero as a constitutional amendment requires two thirds of the votes in the legislature. The Blue House’s drive for constitutional change is aimed at pressuring the National Assembly to come up with its own amendments to the Constitution.

The government’s rush was triggered by the opposition dragging its feet on the issue. In January, opposition parties established a special committee for constitutional revision in the National Assembly after leading presidential candidates promised to put to a vote a constitutional amendment during the June 13 local elections. But the opposition now opposes an amendment because putting the amendment to a vote will most likely affect the local elections negatively.

It is not the time for ruling and opposition parties to weigh political advantages and disadvantages. What concerns us most is what the amendment is supposed to do. A number of the people support change because they cannot leave unattended the evil effects of the so-called “imperial presidency.” Though not final, the government’s draft stops short of reducing the huge power of the president.

The two consecutive four-year terms contained in the government’s draft could lead to a strengthening of presidential power. The draft also did not reflect the opposition’s demand that the legislature retain the right to nominate a prime minister. The opposition criticized the draft for falling short of its expectations for limiting the president’s privileges to appoint heads of powerful agencies.

The way the revision is being pushed is not desirable. Though our Constitution allows the president to propose an amendment, a Blue House-led drive can hardly be praised. As opposition parties have strength in the legislature, an administration-driven amendment can hardly be approved.

It would be the best for the Assembly to lead the debate on constitutional change. One year after the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, many changes have taken place in our society. The time has come to curb the powers of the presidency. Constitutional change is the key. Politicians must focus on ending our imperial presidency. Ruling and opposition parties must first agree on the timing of constitutional change and announce road maps.

JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 14, Page 30