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In about-face, LKP proposes constitutional amendments

July 03,2018
Korea’s largest opposition party said Monday that it would amend the Constitution to strengthen the legislature’s check on executive power and revive the party’s fortunes after a crushing defeat in local elections last month.

Kim Sung-tae, acting chairman of the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), told reporters after an internal party meeting that it would pursue an amendment that will “put an end to the system of the imperial presidency.”

Amending the Constitution, which hasn’t changed since it was instated in 1987 after a wave of democracy protests, has been a perennial issue in Korea since the current document gives the president an extraordinary amount of power. President Moon Jae-in himself submitted a proposal in March to amend the Constitution, fulfilling a campaign promise, but it was scuttled after opposition parties in the National Assembly objected to the plan.

Chief among the proposed reforms was changing the current system of a single-term, five-year presidency to a four-year presidency with possibility of re-election, similar to in the United States.

In a dramatic role reversal, the LKP is now the one proposing a revision, while the ruling Democratic Party is voicing little enthusiasm.

“Constitutional reform is the people’s demand and a pressing challenge of our times,” Kim said at the party meeting. “If the Democratic Party has not forgotten that reform has been commanded by the candlelight vigils, it must join in discussions of a constitutional amendment immediately.”

The stinging results from the local elections on June 13 appear to have factored into the LKP’s about-face on constitutional reform. The current single-member district electoral system allowed the Democratic Party to command overwhelming majorities in a number of provincial legislatures while the LKP found itself with only six out of 47 seats in Busan and four out of 135 seats in Gyeonggi.

With a hefty portion of their provincial-level base wiped out, the LKP has thrown in its lot with smaller parties like the Bareumirae Party and Party for Democracy and Peace, which have repeatedly called for replacing the current system with multimember districts that can increase their presence in the National Assembly.

A single-member district can only have one representative per constituency. A multimember district can have up to five.

Given the Democratic Party’s cooperation with smaller liberal partners in legislative matters, it, too, may find demands for electoral reform by smaller parties increasingly difficult to resist.

Political analysts believe the LKP’s current pursuit of constitutional reform may be a rallying cry to unite the currently fractured conservatives against the Moon administration’s continuous streak of popularity. After gaining 11 seats in the legislature, but still falling short of a majority to pass the president’s agenda, the Democratic Party has expressed interest in forming a broad coalition with smaller liberal parties that could give the left an absolute majority of 157 seats.

With some members of the center-right Bareunmirae Party - the third largest party in the legislature - also mulling participation in this plan, the LKP may be viewing constitutional reform as a convenient way to prod conservatives in the Bareunmirae Party to their side and prevent its political isolation in the legislature.

Such a calculus takes place amid fierce negotiations among parties in the National Assembly to allocate 18 standing committees and select a new speaker and deputy speakers for the second half of the legislature’s current four-year term. The National Assembly remains stuck in gridlock, with pressing matters piling up on its doorstep for over a month.

BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [shim.kyuseok@joongang.co.kr]