With Cheong Wa Dae set to table its constitutional amendment proposal Monday, parties are struggling to narrow their differences in an effort to come up with their own revision plan.
The government’s proposal includes plans to change the current five-year single term presidency to a four-year term with the possibility of re-election. It will be discussed in a Cabinet meeting Monday morning before it is passed on to President Moon Jae-in for approval to be submitted to the National Assembly.
The Liberty Korea Party’s chief policymaker Rep. Ham Jin-kyu (right) whispers to party Floor Leader Rep. Kim Sung-tae at an emergency party meeting held at the National Assembly on Sunday. (Yonhap)
Monday is the deadline for the government to table the bill if it wants to guarantee that the timing of a national referendum on the revision would coincide with the local elections on June 13.
According to the Constitution, the president and the National Assembly separately have the right to propose bills to revise the constitution.
Once a bill is submitted, the parliament is required to vote on it within 60 days, meaning that if the bill is submitted Monday, lawmakers across the aisle will have to either accept or veto the bill by May 24.
If it is passed by the Assembly, another 18 days are required before holding a national referendum on the revision, which means that a maximum of 78 days are needed. For a June 13 referendum, the 78-day mark is on Monday.
For the presidential office, it is crucial that it persuades the opposition to pass the bill. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party currently has 116 parliamentary seats, enough to block the passage of the government-led constitutional revision.
For the basic law amendment bill to be put to any kind of referendum, at least two-thirds of the legislators must pass it. As there are currently 293 lawmakers, the government bill needs votes from at least 196 lawmakers.
A tough battle is expected as opposition parties strongly oppose the government’s proposal. The ruling and opposition parties are also are greatly divided on the details of the amendment plan.
“President Moon Jae-in has become an ‘imperial’ leader who is busy trying to push the amendment plan without much discussion, when the parliament is working to produce its own bill,” said Rep. Kim Sung-tae, Liberty Korea Party floor leader, during a party meeting on Sunday.
However, the National Assembly has been slow to come up with a bill. In January 2017, the legislative body established a special committee on constitutional reform, but because the lawmakers made little progress in narrowing their differences, the committee’s operation was extended by six months to June this year.
One of the major sticking points is when to put the revision plan to a national ballot. President Moon seeks to fulfill his pledge to hold a referendum on constitutional revision on June 13, as holding two polls at once would reduce waste of tax money.
But the opposition parties claim the government’s proposal is only a “show” and that its real reason for pushing the referendum on June 13 is to raise the voting rate in the local elections, as that is thought to be more favorable for the liberal bloc that is enjoying high support rates in polls.
The Liberty Korea Party is expected to come up with its own constitutional revision plan this week, as it maintains that the National Assembly should come up with a proposal by June and put it to a referendum later -- before the end of the year.
The parties are also divided on the details of the basic law, which addresses not only the people’s rights, but also the government structure and election system.
Citing that the presidential system has been shown to be the most favored form of government according to local polls, the government’s proposal sought to introduce a two consecutive term four-year presidency.
But the conservative Liberty Korea Party and center-right Bareun Future Party have discussed giving the National Assembly the power to name the prime minister, claiming that lengthening the presidential term by reelection would only reinforce the power of the president.
The center-left Party for Democracy and Peace and far-left Justice Party also believe that the parliament should at least have the right to “recommend” the nominees for the office of the prime minister.
The ruling Democratic Party, however, appears to be firmly against the idea, as it believes it will only cause more conflicts between the government and the parliament and hinder the management of state affairs. The presidential office has expressed its position against the opposition’s call, saying it would not be different from a parliamentary cabinet system.
Cheong Wa Dae said if the National Assembly comes up with its own proposal to be put to referendum on June 13, it is also willing to “respect” the bill.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)