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Politics/Diplomacy
2009/08/31 16:55 KST
(LEAD) Assembly panel proposes constitutional revision on presidential power

  
SEOUL, Aug. 31 (Yonhap) -- A National Assembly advisory body on Monday proposed revising the Constitution to replace the current five-year single-term presidency with a semi-presidential system or a U.S.-style four-year presidency with a maximum two terms.

   Issuing a report after its year-long study, the parliamentary panel recommended that the upcoming discussions on constitutional amendments be focused on delegating a portion of the president's power to the prime minister and parliament and reinforcing the efficiency and democratic nature of parliamentary operations.

Regarding parliamentary reform, the panel proposed that a bicameral system be introduced, with tenures at the lower and upper houses set at four and six years, respectively. Members of the unicameral parliament now serve a tenure of four years.

   As for the presidency, the report called for the introduction of power sharing system between president and prime minister or a vice presidential system, though it suggested that direct presidential elections be maintained.

   A semi-presidential system, also called a dual presidential-parliamentary government, features a popularly elected president and a prime minister elected by lawmakers. Under the dual government system, the prime minister serves as head of the administration overseeing security, economic and defense affairs, the report noted.

   As another alternative, the panel proposed adopting the U.S.-style presidential system, in which the president can seek re-election after serving his or her first four-year term and is succeeded by a vice president in cases where the office of president is left vacant.

   Other constitutional reforms proposed by the panel, consisting mainly of scholars, included an expansion of the Constitutional Court's authority, relegating parts of the Board of Audit and Inspection's affairs to parliament, and the creation of new clauses on gender equality and press freedom.

   It also suggested that the president transfer the power to appoint chiefs and justices of the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court to parliament.

   "The National Assembly should take the lead in future debates on constitutional revision," said the report. "It is desirable that the procedures for a constitutional amendment be completed before next year's local elections to prevent the debate from being swayed by political interest."

   National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyung-o urged rival parties to establish a special bipartisan committee to begin full-fledged discussions on the issue.

   "The parliamentary advisory committee has completed its year-long study on constitutional revision. It is very meaningful as a first step to opening a new era," said Kim.

   Kim Chong-in, chairman of the advisory panel, told reporters that the proposals are aimed at accelerating decentralization of power under the principles of democracy.

   "Under the current constitutional structure, state power is concentrated in the president. But the problem has not been addressed for so long," he said,
"The semi-presidential system, for instance, is intended to beef up parliamentary functions to promote the development of democracy. The president may lose some power but still holds the right to dissolve parliament and issue an emergency order. Its shortcoming lies in the possibility of conflict between the president and prime minister," he said.

   Political experts here have generally shared the view that the current single-term presidency, introduced in 1987 in response to a growing pro-democracy movement and to prevent future dictatorships, does not fit well with a democratized South Korea.

   As expected, reactions among rival parties to the parliamentary speaker's plea for speedy debate on constitutional amendments differed.

   "Constitutional revision is an unavoidable task in order for the nation to terminate extreme political confrontations," said Ahn Sang-soo, floor leader of the ruling Grand National Party (GNP).

   "A dual-power government system, in which the president oversees foreign and defense policies and the prime minister is responsible for domestic affairs, is desirable," Ahn said.

   But Lee Kang-rae, floor leader of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), urged a more careful approach, saying his party will come to the negotiating table only after a national consensus is formed on the matter and some preconditions are met.

   "We'll be ready to discuss constitutional amendments only if there is a national consensus and the ruling party agrees to nullify the controversial media reform bills and create a special parliamentary committee on prosecution reform," said Lee.

   A constitutional revision must first be approved by two-thirds of sitting lawmakers and then in a national referendum. At present, the GNP controls 168 seats in the 299-member unicameral house, compared with the DP's 84 seats. The ruling party is about 30 seats short of the two-thirds of parliamentary seats needed to independently revise the Constitution.

   ycm@yna.co.kr
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