By Kim Rahn
Three political parties agreed Wednesday to push for a referendum on constitutional revision for a new presidential system on the same day as the presidential election, May 9.
However, the prospect for the referendum appears to be uncertain at the moment because the Democratic Party of Korea (DPK), the largest political party, and its leading presidential contender Moon Jae-in are opposed to the idea.
On the other hand, the Liberty Korea Party (LKP), the Bareun Party and the People’s Party said their floor leaders had reached a consensus to hold the referendum alongside the election.
While the current Constitution sets the presidential term at five years and does not allow a consecutive term, the parties seek to adjust it to four years and to allow two consecutive terms. They also agreed to adopt a semi-presidential system, in which the president takes charge of foreign affairs and security and the National Assembly approved prime minister takes care of domestic affairs.
The parties also decided to delink the Board of Audit and Inspection from the president.
All parties have agreed on the need for a constitutional revision to decentralize the power of the president and to match the tenure of the president with that of the Assembly. But when to do this has been a bone of contention.
The three parties called for a revision before the presidential election, saying there have been cases that presidential candidates vowed to amend the Constitution and later reversed themselves after being elected. They now seek the referendum on the presidential poll day, because of a lack of time for a separate referendum before the election.
The official stance of the DPK, however, is to hold the referendum on constitutional revision in tandem with local elections slated for June 2018. Moon also supports this.
For the revision bill to be submitted, more than half of the 300-seat Assembly members need to consent to it; and it can be passed if more than two thirds of the members vote in favor.
As the three parties hold a combined 165 seats, submitting the bill is possible. But they are short of the 35 votes to pass it, so without the DPK’s cooperation, a constitutional revision is impossible.
This is why the three parties are encouraging DPK members who agreed with the pre-election constitutional amendment — mostly the anti-Moon faction — to participate in the revision move.
DPK floor leader Woo Sang-ho said the revision cannot be achieved without the DPK, which has 121 members, calling the plan “a pipe dream.”
“The revision, although it is voted on the same day of the presidential election, will not be applied to the new president anyway. If four parties, including us, agree to hold a referendum along with the 2018 local elections, it will be the best way to minimize national division over the revision issue,” Woo said.
Moon also criticized the three parties’ agreement, saying recent opinion polls showed most people disagree on the pre-election constitutional revision.
Stressing the need to reflect people’s opinions through public hearings or discussions, he said, “Why do politicians decide whether to adopt parliamentary cabinet system or semi-presidential system on their own? Who gave them the authority to do that? Did they ask to people?”
Considering the tight election schedule and a lack of public consensus, some say the three parties suggested the constitutional revision referendum on the presidential election day to create conflict between pro- and anti-Moon factions and the latter’s possible spinoff from the DPK, which will deal a significant blow to the party.
Under the theme of the constitutional revision, parties and politicians who are midway between liberal and conservative may come up with a unified candidate, and this could be a challenge to Moon’s lead in the race.