+ A

3 parties hurry amendment, but DP says wait

Mar 16,2017
Three major parties agreed to hold a referendum on constitutional change together with the presidential election on May 9 - but the Democratic Party (DP), the biggest force in the National Assembly, isn’t on board.

The DP wants the whole process to be done next year.

Emerging from a breakfast meeting at the National Assembly, floor leaders of the three parties - the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), People’s Party and the Bareun Party - said they had agreed to pass a bill revising the Constitution and then hold a referendum on it on May 9.

The three parties said the revision to the Constitution, which has not been changed since 1987, should bring an end to the current single five-year presidential term to allow re-election and introduce a semi-presidential system in which a president is in charge of external affairs while a prime minster takes care of domestic affairs.

While details of the changes have yet to be totally agreed to, the general consensus is that some of the power of the president should be given to the parliament.

Joo Seung-yong, floor leader of the People’s Party, said a final draft of the revision should be complete by next week after ironing out differences among the parties.

Under the agreement among the parties, the term of the president elected on May 9 will be truncated to three years so the following presidential election can be held in tandem with the general election of 2020. The three parties are aiming for the new semi-presidential governing system to kick off from 2020. The terms for presidents thereafter will probably be four years and one re-election will be allowed.

Another idea is a single term presidency that lasts for six years.

But the agreement has a major defect: the lack of cooperation from the Democratic Party, the biggest party in the National Assembly, with 121 of its 299 seats. The Assembly normally has 300 lawmakers but one LKP member lost his seat last month for an election law violation.

While the DP agrees on the desirability of changing the 1987 Constitution, which restored direct presidential elections after decades of authoritarian rule, it wants a referendum to be held in tandem with local elections on June 13, 2018. The DP says that there is not enough time to come up with a constitutional amendment by May 9.

To propose a constitutional amendment, a majority of the current 299 lawmakers is required. Given the three parties have a total of 165 lawmakers, sending the bill to the floor should be simple. But passing a constitutional change requires a two-third vote, or 200 votes in the current 299-member chamber.

If the bill is proposed for a vote, it can’t be voted on for 20 days. After the 20-day period, the bill must be voted on within 60 days.

If the bill is passed with 200 votes or more, a national referendum on the changes must be held within 30 days. In the national vote, at least half of eligible voters should participate to render the voting outcome valid. Of the cast votes, a majority of votes are required to pass the amendment.

Upon hearing of the trilateral agreement that excludes it, the DP balked, saying it could never be legislated without its approval.

“Even a small bill can’t be legislated without bipartisan agreement among the four parties. How can something like a constitutional revision be legislated without agreement by all four major parties?” snapped floor leader Woo Sang-ho of the DP.

For the ambitious plan by the three parties to succeed, they would need 35 voters outside of their alliance.

While about 30 Democrats previously acknowledged the need for an amendment, many stated in a survey by the JoongAng Ilbo conducted Wednesday they would oppose a bill the DP didn’t help write.

Presidential frontrunner Moon Jae-in, who leads in all polls about who will be Korea’s next president, blasted the agreement Wednesday.

“The Constitution belongs to the people,” he said. “Any decision to revise it must reflect on the people’s demands from the start. What rights do politicians have to unilaterally decide what government the country should adopt?”

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]