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Opposition parties welcome talks on constitutional revision

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By Choi Ha-young

The floor leaders of the nation’s two largest opposition parties expressed hope, Friday, that the inter-party talks on revising the Constitution will begin as early as possible.

They welcomed President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for such talks, made in a speech in Gwangju, Thursday, but cautiously said the talks, even if launched early, could be prolonged due to differing partisan interests.

The floor leaders made it clear that the National Assembly, not Cheong Wa Dae, should take the initiative in revising the Constitution.

On Thursday, Moon renewed his presidential campaign pledge to amend the Constitution within his term while visiting Gwangju to mark the May 18 Democratic Uprising in 1980. He particularly emphasized his wish to stipulate the spirit of the anti-dictatorship movement in the Constitution.

Rep. Chung Woo-taik, floor leader of the main opposition Liberty Korea Party (LKP), proposed to kick-start inter-party talks as soon as possible. “I officially suggest the Assembly speaker and each party complete the talks before the local election next year,” Chung said.

People’s Party floor leader Rep. Kim Dong-cheol said Moon should clarify first whether he would respect any decision made by the Assembly.

The Assembly launched a panel on revising the Constitution last year, but made little progress.

Constitutional revision has been a long-debated issue here, but it has fallen apart several times. Before the May 9 election, a joint move of the People’s Party, LKP and the Bareun Party failed to gain momentum being considered as a political tactic to drive an anti-Moon alliance.

The juncture of the revision has already reached an agreement among former presidential candidates during the campaign. On April 12, Moon and two rival presidential candidates — Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party and Sim Sang-jung of the Justice Party — reached an agreement to hold a referendum on the revision in June next year, along with the local election.

Going into the details of the move, however, the liberals and the conservatives are poles apart. Following Moon’s speech Thursday, the LKP refuted it, saying, “It requires public consensus to include the spirit of Gwangju in the Constitution.”

Seed of conflict

In contrast to Moon’s determination to dismiss the groundless rumors about the movement, the conservative party rather reiterated it yet again, that some North Korean soldiers were involved in the protest in Gwangju.

Parties have roughly found common ground over some agendas: limiting presidential power, empowering local autonomous bodies, reforming election rules, and boosting fundamental human rights. However, the degree and direction of the reforms over the prosecution and family-run conglomerates are thorny points.

While President Moon prefers a U.S.-style, two-term presidential system, the LKP and the Bareun Party want to limit presidential power.

“If the opposition bloc fails to bridge the differences, citizens may withdraw their support for the Assembly,” political commentator Choi Young-il said. “Especially, the president is enjoying high backing of public opinion, which could make them unwilling to deter presidential power.”

Bae Jong-chan, chief director of political pollster Research and Research, said that the motion may spur realignment of the political landscape. “Traditionally, the revision has been more than changing the supreme law,” he said.

“Opposition parties can turn the table by jointly pressing Moon to cut down his term. The LKP can unite the conservative voters by kindling an ideological duel, as seen by their claim about the Gwangju Democratic Uprising,” Bae said. “By joining hands and locking horns, the parties are likely to be realigned.”

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