By Kim Se-jeong
The ruling Grand National Party (GNP) began three days of discussion Tuesday on whether to revise the Constitution to bring changes to the single-term presidential system.
The current Constitution allows for only a single-term presidency that is nevertheless strong with powers concentrated in the chief executive’s office.
The discussions will encompass other electoral systems, as well as gender equality and inter-Korean relations, but the presidential system will be the most contentious topic.
Constitutional change has been a partisan issue, causing deep divisions between the GNP and the main opposition Democratic Party (DP). But it is also proving to be a source of intra-GNP wrangling.
Within the party, pro-Lee legislators are proponents of change, arguing the issue is long overdue. Appearing on TV last week,
President Lee added support to rewriting the Constitution that was last revised in 1987. Lee Jae-oh, the minister for special affairs and the President’s right-hand man, also advocated for change, arguing the revision will be “a fast road to a better and more developed Korea.”
Legislators affiliated with Rep. Park Geun-hye of GNP, who is considered a leading candidate for the next presidency, on the other hand, are lukewarm about the drive as they worry it will undermine her dominance in the presidential race.
If the revision should entail a different governance structure, there is also the possibility of the office of the president becoming weaker.
“We have never adopted constitutional revision as an official party stance,”said GNP Rep. Han Sun-gyo, a pro-Park lawmaker. He added that the pro-Lee group was looking for dominance in the upcoming party convention and also to weaken the presidency by strengthening the power of the National Assembly.
Park, an iconic figure in the GNP, narrowly lost out to Lee in the party’s presidential primaries for the 2007 election.
Contrary to earlier prediction, a total of 125 lawmakers including those affiliated with Park showed up on the first day of the meeting that continued for more than four hours.
In order for the GNP to launch a special committee on constitutional revision, more than half of the 171 incumbent GNP members have to attend the discussions, and half of that number must agree.
The special GNP commission will then draft a revision bill, which has to be endorsed by two-thirds of the GNP members before submission to the Assembly.