President Lee Myung-bak
By Na Jeong-ju
President Lee Myung-bak called for the need to revise the Constitution, and redraw electoral and administrative districts, Thursday, moves that the rival parties have agreed to in principle, but are sharply divided over when it comes to the details.
"We need to push for a constitutional revision on a limited basis. We should also update the laws on electoral and administrative districts for the country's future," Lee said during a meeting with governing party lawmakers at Cheong Wa Dae.
This is the first time the President has proposed a debate on constitutional change since he first raised the issue last September.
A parliamentary advisory body last year proposed replacing the current five-year single-term presidency with a U.S.-style four-year, two-term presidency through the revision.
To rewrite the Constitution, the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) should work closely with the opposition parties because the quorum needed for passage of any revision is two-thirds of all lawmakers. The GNP has 169 seats in the 299-member legislature.
Some political leaders, including National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o and GNP Chairman Chung Mong-joon, have called for a quick start to inter-party talks on the revision, but little progress has been made due to conflict over other contentious issues.
The opposition has responded negatively to the proposal.
"We cannot understand why President Lee is raising the issue at a time when the country is in confusion over Sejong City," said Rep. Noh Young-min, the spokesman of the Democratic Party.
President Lee might be trying to detract public attention from the Sejong project, Noh said.
The GNP itself is engaged in a standoff between rival factions over the government's revision of the project.
Regarding the GNP feuding, Lee called on the lawmakers to have a sense of camaraderie when they debate issues of conflicting interest, saying the unity of the party was crucial to move the country forward.
Lee said backwardness in politics was one of the major challenges Korea must overcome to improve its global competitiveness.
"Politics is the art of compromise. Politicians should create a consensus among people with different opinions.
"It is natural for different groups inside the GNP to dispute over one issue. What's important is that they should work together to create a better future and for the development of their party," the President noted.
Lee's top press officer, Lee Dong-kwan, said later that "it was not appropriate to interpret Lee's remarks as a message to Rep. Park Geun-hye. He just talked about his ideas of ending political conflicts with fundamental solutions,"
Former GNP Chairwoman Park, arguably one of the biggest contenders for the next presidency, has opposed the party's move to revise the Sejong project, raising concerns about a possible split in the governing party.