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Constitutional reform derailed

President chides Assembly for missing procedural deadline
Apr 25,2018
President Moon Jae-in criticized the National Assembly on Tuesday for failing to revise a national referendum law in time to put constitutional reform on the ballot during elections in June.

The missed deadline essentially means Moon’s effort to amend the Constitution by the end of June is dead in the water.

“Because the referendum law was not revised by the legal deadline, voting on constitutional reform in the June 13 local elections has become unfeasible,” the president said during a cabinet meeting at the Blue House.

Moon spoke critically of the National Assembly in harsh terms, slamming lawmakers for not even considering the constitutional reform bill he delivered to them. “I am now no longer able to keep my promise to the people of amending the Constitution through local elections,” he said.

The Constitution has remained unchanged since 1987, when democracy protests ended decades of military rule. The revision that followed created a presidential system of five-year terms with no option of re-election, meaning each president can only serve one term.

On the campaign trail last year, Moon promised constitutional amendments that would change the presidential system and devolve more powers from the central government to local governments. When he took office in May, he pledged to put constitutional reform on the ballot for national referendum during elections this June.

But in order to put amendments on the ballot, the National Assembly has to revise the law concerning national referendums. In 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that the current law is unconstitutional because it does not guarantee full representation of Koreans living overseas.

Monday was the legal deadline for the National Assembly to revise the referendum in time so that the National Election Commission could compile a registry of voters and create ballots by June 13, but opposition parties stalled the process in the legislature.

“It is hard for me to comprehend how this nonsense repeats itself in our politics without any consideration,” Moon said.

Opposition parties have continually frustrated the president’s attempts to amend the Constitution, deriding Moon’s efforts as “imperial.” On March 26, his administration submitted a bill with several constitutional amendments to the National Assembly and pressed lawmakers to revise the referendum law in time to put reform on the ballot.

Moon’s proposed amendments include a four-year presidential term with the possibility of re-election, similar to the presidential system in the United States. Other amendments would lower voting age to 18 from the current 19 and strengthen regional autonomy by giving local governments more control over budgets.

The president made several appeals to opposition parties to consider the bill, saying he had nothing to gain politically from the amendments because he would be exempt from re-election. At the time, Moon said he was even open to the National Assembly drafting its own reform bill, which would supersede his.

But the placation failed to work on the largest opposition, the Liberty Korea Party, which has criticized the bill for falling short of divesting power from the presidential office. The party also objected to deliberating on a reform bill submitted by the Blue House.

Lawmakers from opposition parties have been boycotting parliamentary activities and demanding a special investigation into Rep. Kim Kyoung-soo, a close ally of President Moon who has been suspected of manipulating online opinion during last year’s presidential election in favor of Moon.

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