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Final charter changes detailed

Moon wants to alter term of presidency and trim some of its power
Mar 23,2018
Replacing the current five-year, single-term presidential system with a four-year presidency with a possibility of re-election to a second consecutive term was proposed by President Moon Jae-in on Thursday.

The Blue House announced Thursday Moon’s proposed amendments to the Constitution that involved changes to the governing system, the election system and measures to lessen the president’s powers.

The announcement, made by Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk, was the third and final in a series of changes Moon is proposing. Moon wants to submit his bill to the legislature on Monday, with the aim of holding a national referendum on June 13, when the nation holds local elections.

According to Cho, Moon wants to introduce a four-year presidency with a possibility of re-election to a second consecutive term because it is strongly desired by the Korean public.

“Various surveys announced by the National Assembly Research Service on March 13 showed that a four-year presidency with re-election for a second term is overwhelmingly favored by the public over any other forms of government,” Cho said. “It is the will of the majority of the nation.”

According to the proposed change, a president would be allowed to serve for up to two consecutive terms. If an incumbent president fails to win re-election, he or she is prohibited from running again.

A new governing system is the most controversial issue in Moon’s proposed amendments. While the ruling Democratic Party supports Moon’s proposal, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, LKP, has criticized it as an attempt to lengthen a presidential term, calling it a “long-term dictatorship.”

“I want to make crystal clear that the new presidential system, if adopted, will not be applied to Moon,” Cho said. “Some argue that Moon is covered by the proposed system, and that is a flat lie.”

The LKP, as well as the opposition Bareunmirae Party, the Party for Democracy and Peace and the Justice Party, have argued that the country’s unusually powerful presidency must be changed. They argued that the National Assembly should be given the right to elect or recommend the prime minister in order to partly check the president’s power.

The Blue House, however, rejected that proposal. “When the president and the prime minister are from different parties under circumstances in which the ruling party is outnumbered by the opposition, the splitting of power will likely paralyze the government,” Cho said. “When the president and the prime minister conflict with each other in a national crisis, it’s the public that will suffer.”

Cho said the National Assembly currently has the right to veto a prime minister chosen by the president, so there are enough checks and balances. Allowing the National Assembly the right to elect a prime minister is an attempt to disguise a parliamentary system as a presidential system, he said.

Moon is also proposing a runoff vote system for a presidential election in which no candidate wins a majority. The second round will take place within 14 days of the presidential election.

The proposed amendments also included changes to lessen the president’s power and increase the authority of the National Assembly. The president will not be identified as the “head of the state,” and the Constitution will say “the president represents the country.”

According to the bill, a president will have to go through a review committee before exercising the right to issue pardons. The presidential authority to name the head of the Constitutional Court will be removed, and the justices of the court will elect their own head from among themselves.

The Board of Audit and Inspection, currently under the supervision of the president, will become an independent organ. The National Assembly will name three members on its board. Currently, the president appoints them all.

The National Assembly’s control over the administration is also strengthened. The government will be required to get more than 10 lawmakers’ support to submit a bill to the National Assembly. The budget bill will have to go through the same review process as other bills. The government will also have to submit a budget bill 30 days earlier than the current deadline to give the lawmakers more time for reviews.

The scope of treaties that require the National Assembly’s ratification is also expanded.

Moon also seeks to lower the voting age from 19 to 18, Cho said, explaining that all members of the OECD except Korea have voting ages of 18 or younger. He said many Korean laws use the age of 18 as a standard of adulthood. The duties to pay tax and serve in the military for men start at 18, Cho said.

Moon also proposed to stipulate a principle of proportionality in an election in order to more accurately reflect votes to form the National Assembly.

Korea currently forms the National Assembly through a parallel voting system, in which some members are elected by constituencies while others are chosen by parties to represent segments of society as so-called proportional representatives. Cho said the system has failed to accurately represent the voters’ will.

In the last general election, the Democratic Party and the Saenuri Party, the predecessor of the LKP, together won 65 percent of the total votes, but the two parties are occupying over 80 percent of seats in the National Assembly, Cho said. The People’s Party and the Justice Party together won about 28 percent of the ballots, but they occupy less than 15 percent of the seats in the legislature.

“To resolve the problem, the proposed amendment will stipulate in the Constitution that the number of seats of the National Assembly must be distributed in proportion to the will of the voters,” Cho said, urging the National Assembly to revise the election law in the future to reflect the change.

The proposed amendments also include measures to reform the judiciary. The Blue House said that the Supreme Court chief justice during the Park Geun-hye administration abused his power to promote or demote judges to influence the outcome of certain trials.

Under Moon’s proposal, a committee will recommend Supreme Court justices and the chief justice will make appointments. Judges of other courts will be appointed based on recommendations and approvals of a recommendation committee and the Supreme Court justices’ council.

The Supreme Court Chief justice’s right to appoint three Constitutional Court justices and three members of the National Election Commission will be handed over to the Supreme Court justices’ council.

The public’s participation in criminal justice, including jury trials, will be promoted and court martials during peacetime will be abolished.

In order to diversify the Constitutional Court bench, the mandatory requirement of being a lawyer will be removed to allow other experts to join the court.

After announcing the proposed changes, Cho appealed to the National Assembly and the public to support Moon’s initiative to update the Constitution for the first time in 30 years. To hold the national referendum, the bill must be passed by two thirds of current members of the National Assembly. As of now, the National Assembly has 293 sitting members and Moon needs 196 votes to pass the bill. If all 116 members of the main opposition LKP oppose, passage is impossible.

“If the new four-year presidential system is introduced now, we can hold the presidential election and local elections at the same time four years from now,” Cho said. “If that is realized, the president and local governments will start their terms together and the general election can serve as a midterm evaluation. The nation can save resources by reducing the number of national elections during a president’s term from three to two.”

Cho said the amendments included an additional clause saying the terms of local council representatives and heads of local autonomous governments to be elected in June will end on March 31, 2022, three months shorter than their original tenures. Their successors will be elected at the same time as the next presidential election.

“Now the National Assembly has to step up,” Cho said. “Please review the president’s bill seriously and hold discussions. If necessary, the National Assembly should propose its own bill. Please submit the National Assembly’s amendment bill based on an agreement.”

After making public his timeline, the Blue House said Moon is willing to retract his bill if lawmakers present their own constitutional amendment bill in time to hold the national referendum on June 13. The legislature has until early May to do so, and no progress has been made at the National Assembly on a bill.

Cho also urged the legislature to amend the law governing national referenda by April 27, because the current law was ruled unconstitutional and the legislature has not revised it.

“April 27 is the deadline for the National Assembly on its attitude toward the constitution,” Cho said. “Whether it refuses to review the president’s bill, vote it down or submit its own bill, the National Assembly must revise the law on national referenda by April 27.”

Han Byung-do, Moon’s senior secretary for political affairs, visited the leaderships of the National Assembly and each party on Thursday to brief them about the proposed amendments, but the opposition parties, including the LKP, refused to meet with him.

The bill will be sent to the Ministry of Government Legislation for confirmation and the entire text was made public late Thursday.

BY SER MYO-JA [ser.myoja@joongang.co.kr]