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Moon sends assembly charter amendment bill

Mar 27,2018
President Moon Jae-in sent his constitutional amendment bill to the National Assembly on Monday, kicking off a 60-day countdown for the legislature to consider and vote on the proposed changes, including a new presidential system.

According to the Blue House, Moon used an electronic approval system while in the United Arab Emirates to approve the submission of the bill, which his cabinet passed earlier in the morning. The bill aims at making a wide range of changes, including introducing a four-year presidential system with a possibility of re-election for a second consecutive term.

“I made a pledge to the nation that a national referendum to amend the Constitution will take place in time with the June local elections,” Moon said in a statement read by his spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. “To keep the promise, I am exercising the right, bestowed by the Constitution to the president, to submit an amendment bill.”

Moon became the third Korean president to introduce a constitutional amendment bill to the National Assembly in 38 years. Park Chung Hee led with a controversial amendment of the Constitution in 1972 and Chun Doo Hwan amended the Constitution to establish an indirect presidential election for a single, seven-year term.

In his statement to the nation, Moon said he has four reasons to push forward with the amendments, despite strong disagreements from his political opposition. He said the amendments reflect the sentiments of the candlelight vigil protesters who helped oust his predecessor Park Geun-hye. He said holding a referendum in June with the local elections will save money.

He also said that after his amendments, the presidential election and local elections can take place at the same time every four years, also saving money. He said the changes were not for him but for the people.

“I will gain nothing from amending the Constitution,” he said. “In fact, the presidential authority will be handed over to the people, local governments and the National Assembly. It will be a burden for me, but I am pushing forward the amendments for a better Constitution, better democracy and better politics.”

Earlier in the morning, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon hosted a cabinet meeting to approve Moon’s bill. Minister of Government Legislation Kim Oe-sook explained the bill and cabinet members entered their signatures through computer systems. The entire process took 40 minutes.

Later in the afternoon, Kim visited the National Assembly and formally submitted the president’s constitutional amendment bill. The submission process will conclude after the Ministry of Government Legislation submits the bill to the Ministry of the Interior and Safety and a notice is posted on the electronic government bulletin.

The National Assembly, based on Article 130 of the current Constitution, has 60 days to vote on the bill - by May 24. If the bill is passed by two-thirds of the legislature, a national referendum will take place. A majority vote is required to finalize the amendments.

Moon earlier said he is willing to retract his bill if the National Assembly agrees on its own amendment bill.

Shortly after Moon submitted his bill, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to start negotiations to create the legislature’s own amendment bill.

Floor leaders of the ruling Democratic Party and the main opposition Liberty Korea Party and Bareunmirae Party agreed to begin talks starting today. Introducing a new governance system, revising the election system, reforming powerful government institutions and deciding on the timing of the national referendum are the main issues.

Other minority parties such as the Justice Party are allowed to join the negotiations if they manage to recruit more than 20 lawmakers to form a negotiation bloc.

The three parties also agreed to allow Moon to give a speech at the National Assembly on the constitutional amendments during the April legislative session.

Meanwhile, Moon’s submission process invited criticism from the opposition parties for having failed to respect steps stipulated in the Constitution.

According to Article 89 of the Constitution, draft amendments of the Constitution are supposed to be deliberated by the cabinet before submission to the legislature. The bill, however, was presented at the cabinet meeting for the first time on Monday. Lawmakers argued that the Blue House ignored the process.

“Senior Presidential Secretary for Civil Affairs Cho Kuk released the amendments in the form of press releases and announced them over three days, instead of revealing the full text of the planned changes,” said Rep. Ham Jin-gyu, chief policymaker of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. “Furthermore, Moon endorsed the submission from overseas using an electronic system. This clearly shows this administration’s lack of respect for the Constitution.”

“Because the process was in violation of the Constitution, the National Assembly cannot accept this,” said Rep. Park Joo-sun, head of the Bareunmirae Party. “The deliberation of the amendment bill by the cabinet should be more than a formality. Debate must take place on the proposed changes and ministers must confirm the bill before the president sends it to the legislature. But the senior secretary for civil affairs finalized the bill before it went to the cabinet.”

Academics were the first to raise concerns about bypassing the cabinet deliberation.

In an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo on Thursday, Huh Young, a professor emeritus at Kyung Hee University Law School who served as the first president of the Constitutional Research Institute, raised the issue for the first time.

“I have never heard that a cabinet meeting was held to discuss the amendments,” he said. “Even if the ministers review the bill immediately before approving it, that is nothing more than being an amenable rubber-stamp cabinet. I don’t know why Moon is ignoring the current Constitution.”

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