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DP sketches out ideas for reform of Constitution

But major issues are not decided, and glitch provokes controversy
Feb 03,2018
In a two-day session at the National Assembly, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) charted its plan for constitutional revisions, which will focus on amending the presidential and electoral systems, but it left vague details such as whether it supports changing Korea’s single-term five-year presidency into a four-year presidential term with the possibility of a second term.

“The party announced that its constitutional revision plan will center on the presidential term and electoral reorganization,” said DP floor leader Woo Won-shik on Friday. “The discussion of the presidential term could include a four-year, two-term presidency among other forms.”

In a New Year’s address, President Moon Jae-in said he personally hoped Korea’s five-year, single-term presidency would be changed to a system like America’s, in which a president can serve two four-year terms. But he said that he personally will not champion that change. Moon is keen not to be seen as changing the Constitution simply to afford himself a second term.

“As for electoral reorganization, we will negotiate with other parties to strengthen proportionality of representatives,” said DP floor spokesman Rep. Kang Hoon-sik.

The current electoral system is a single member constituency system in which one representative is elected from each district. As of now, 253 of the 300 National Assembly seats are single-member district seats and 47 are proportional representatives assigned by parties.

Liberal politicians have pushed for other systems, such as a German-style mixed-member proportional representation system. They argue that the current system is disadvantageous to minority parties and political rookies and fails to accurately represent public sentiment.

Some sections of the plan the party chose to reveal were about giving more direct power to ordinary citizens and local governments in the legislative process.

“In order to strengthen an individual’s democratic power, we discussed the right of a citizen to propose and submit bills,” said the DP’s floor spokeswoman Rep. Je Youn-kyung in a press conference Thursday. “Additionally, we discussed granting local governments the right to submit bills, as long as the legal proposals are not in conflict with current laws.”

Je said the Gwangju Democratization Movement, the June Democratic Movement (Korea’s independence movement against Japan in June 1926), the Bu-Ma Democratic Protests (a movement in 1979 in Busan and Masan against the Park Chung Hee regime) and the candlelight vigils that ousted former President Park Geun-hye should be cited in the preamble to the Constitution “as a continuation of the democratic ideals of the country.”

Including the Gwangju Democratization Movement in the preamble was one of Moon’s campaign pledges.

“The DP did not talk about some of the fundamental issues concerning constitutional amendment,” said the main opposition Liberty Korea Party’s floor leader Rep. Kim Sung-tae in a radio interview with YTN on Friday. “And the president also did not mention anything about reforming state organizations in his New Year’s address.”

The government’s initiative to reform powerful state organizations including the criminal justice system and intelligence agency, which have been accused of power abuse and corruption, is major point of contention among rival parties.

The LKP also took issue with a glitch in the DP’s press conference on Thursday.

Rep. Je announced on Thursday that the DP decided to ask the Assembly to remove the word “free” in the phrase “free and democratic order” from the preamble of the Constitution.

The relevant sentence in the preamble is this: “To afford equal opportunities to every person and provide for the fullest development of individual capabilities in all fields, including political, economic, social and cultural life by further strengthening the basic free and democratic order conducive to private initiative and public harmony.”

The party retracted that idea in a press briefing four hours later, saying the spokeswoman was mistaken about her previous announcement and that the word “free” should remain in the preamble.

“That is not a mistake but a deliberate trick to test how the public would take such an idea,” Kim said in the radio interview. “The DP’s plan for constitutional reform is very left-leaning.”

“The DP’s plan has too many socialist factors,” said LKP Rep. Joo Kwang-deok, a member of the LKP’s special committee on constitutional revision.

In his New Year’s address, Moon said the current version of the Constitution, written 30 years ago, is no longer sufficient and urged the National Assembly to take steps to draft an amendment bill by March, in time for the local elections in June, so that a national referendum to amend the Constitution could be held on the same day.

Moon said he would also make preparations in case the legislature failed to act. A constitutional amendment can be proposed by the president.

The ruling and opposition parties are split about the timing. While the DP supports Moon’s timeline, the Liberty Korea Party disagrees with holding the referendum to amend the Constitution on the same date as the local elections.

“It is simply not right to hold the two events on the same date - the constitutional amendment should receive undivided attention,” Kim said. “The LKP intends to get its plan on constitutional revision ready by late February or early March.”

BY ESTHER CHUNG, SONG SEUNG-HWAN [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]