All Previous Presidents Have Failed And the System Is a Major Culprit For their Failures” Under the Current Presidential System
In the wake of the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her confidant Choi Soon-sil, there have been intensifying calls for an amendment to the current Constitution, which has resulted in presidents acting without check as they are unconcerned with winning a reelection, despite it being intended to prevent any head of state from holding onto power through illicit means. "The nation should elect a new president under a new constitutional system," former Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung said in a forum on constitutional mendment
Constitutional amendment is emerging as a key political issue at a time when Korean politics, while undergoing an upheaval caused by the crisis in the Park Geun-hye presidency, is gearing up for a major political realignment ahead of the presidential election. All major parties and potential presidential candidates are engaged in the issue in one way or another. Three forums of parliamentarians - one each by the ruling and the main opposition Democratic Party and the third by the Democratic Party and the minor opposition People's Party - have been held. Calls for amending the basic law have gained additional momentum since the outbreak of the Choi Soon-sil scandal. Many believe that the Constitution still gives the President too much power and that it was one of the reasons Park's civilian confidante could peddle influence and make personal gains. Also giving impetus to discussion of constitutional amendment is the impending realignment of the political terrain, which is being accelerated by the breakup of the ruling Saenuri Party and the decision of UN Secretary-General Ban Kimoon to run in the presidential election. Some parties and presidential hopefuls are already indicating formation of alliances based on their position on when and how to amend the Constitution. A problem is that there are as many opinions and positions as there are parties and presidential hopefuls. For now, the biggest issue of contention is the timing of the proposed constitutional amendment. The consensus on the constitutional revision might have been made in the National Assembly. But revisionists are divided into two groups - those pushing for it before the presidential election and those after. The parties are waiting for the Constitutional Court's ruling on Park's impeachment, which could take up to six months. If the impeachment is ruled lawful, presidential election must take place two months later, shortening Park's term which is supposed to end in December. Ahead of an early presidential election, many remain cautious of pushing for the revision. Most notable presidential candidates agree on a timetable of doing this under the next administration. According to political observers, a proposed constitution revision could bring interested parties together from both the conservative and liberal camps, raising the likelihood that the political circles may align with each other ahead of the 2017 presidential race. All six potential presidential runners in the 2017 race have been behind Moon Jaein of the DPK in opinion polls in recent weeks. However, outgoing U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon beat Moon, according to the latest survey results, for the first time in eight weeks after the U.N. chief all but declared his bid for the South Korean presidency, on December 20. However, the gap between Ban and Moon's popularity was within the margin of error.
Following President Park's impeachment, the presidential election could take place within the first half of next year, instead of December later that year. The Constitutional Court is currently conducting the impeachment trial, and once it rules for the impeachment, Park will be completely stripped of her power as President, in which case the presidential election should take place within 60 days after the President's departure, according to the Constitution. The proposed amendment to the Constitution has taken center stage, especially after Park's impeachment, with a broad consensus among politicians that the current presidential system gave rise to the so-called "imperial presidency" that was regarded as one of the major causes of the influence-peddling scandal involving Park and her close friend Choi Soon-sil. There have been various proposed changes to the Constitution, including a four-year, two-term presidency; parliamentary system; and semi-presidential system, under which a president would be responsible for foreign and national security affairs while a prime minister would be responsible for domestic affairs. "The fate of the country has been left in the hands of one person. We need a power-sharing system to dispel such uncertainty," said a politics professor at Korea University. Rep. Moon Jae-in, the former leader of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) who is leading polls of possible candidates for the presidency, said that he believes it is necessary to revise the Constitution in a way to contain possible abuse of presidential power but the the timing is not right. "We need to meet the public needs reflected in the candlelit rallies first," he told reporters. "After mending the situation, presidential runners should present their ideas on the constitutional revision as their electoral pledges and the next government should carry out the task." As things stand, the issue is pitting the non-mainstreamers against Moon Jae-in and his mainstream faction. Since the Choi scandal began demolishing Park and her conservative ruling party, Moon rejected any discussion of constitutional rewriting as an "impure" move to distract public attention away from the popular movement to oust Park. As he sees the highest chances of liberals winning power in 10 years and as he is running ahead of the herd of liberal hopefuls, Moon may well think that he is within reach of power and that the status quo should remain intact until the next presidential election. Such an attitude will only portray him as a man who seeks short-sighted, shortterm gain. All in all, it would not be easy to rewrite the basic law in a few months, but that does not justify Moon's outright rejection of the issue. A constitutional revision emerged as a hot button issue in the post-impeachment stage in politics here. A broad consensus has been built among the political circle about the need to change the current fiveyear single-term presidential system that allows unbridled power for an elected President.
When the legislature amended the Constitution in 1987, inspired by the civic-led democratization movement, its focus was guaranteeing the direct election of the President and limiting a possible long-term presidency. The National Assembly has begun work to amend the Constitution ahead of the next presidential election, but this remains a tricky issue due to the varied opinions of different factions and prominent politicians. The floor leaders of rival parties said on December 12 they have agreed to form a special committee to discuss a constitutional amendment next month with a view to changing the current five-year, singleterm presidency. However, it will not be easy for them to make progress in their talks due to strong opposition from presidential hopefuls, including former main opposition Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) Chairman Moon Jae-in, as well as the short period of time left before the next presidential election, analysts said, Tuesday. In the wake of the corruption scandal involving President Park Geun-hye and her confidant Choi Soon-sil, there have been intensifying calls for an amendment to the current Constitution, which has resulted in presidents acting without check as they are unconcerned with winning a reelection, despite it being intended to prevent any head of state from holding onto power through illicit means. "The nation should elect a new president under a new constitutional system," former Saenuri Party Chairman Kim Moo-sung said in a forum on constitutional amendment at the Assembly, on December 13 "As the rival parties agreed to set up a special committee for constitutional amendment, we should concentrate all efforts on revising the Constitution as quickly as we can." He added: "Under the current presidential system, all previous presidents have failed and I think the system is a major culprit for their failures." Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun also stressed the importance of the proposed amendment. "We should not retain the imperial presidential system," he said in a press conference. However, it remains to be seen if the Constitution will be amended in time for the presidential election, originally scheduled for December 2017, given the opposition's presidential hopefuls who disagree with the issue. The amendment has to be proposed by more than half of the serving representatives in the National Assembly and passed by two-thirds of ballots in a floor vote. For final approval, a referendum would have to be conducted within 30 days after the Assembly vote. And what kind of amendments would the Assembly push for? Do lawmakers want to propose a bill on revising the clause that mandates the nation should select the successor "within 60 days" after the president's departure, aimed at extending the period? The assumption is impossible to realize, given the Constitutional Court's current deliberation on the impeachment accord. The presidential election could be conducted as early as March should the court speed up its review and accept the accord in January 2017.