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Korea's Constitution Day; history of constitution and ongoing discussions on possible amendment Updated: 2017-07-17 20:02:30 KST


First enacted in 1948, Korea's constitution has been revised nine times over the past seven decades.
Some revisions were made by political leaders wanting to extend their tenure, others from the public's resistance movements.
In 1972, Korea's former president Park Chung-hee changed the constitution to allow indirect presidential elections, and in 1980, the constitution was revised to adopt a seven-year, single-term presidency under then-president Chun Doo-hwan.
But through June Democratic Movement in 1987, dictatorship came to an end in Korea and the constitution was once again revised -- to allow direct presidential elections and a five-year, single-term presidency.

The 1987 constitution is regarded as a fruit of Korean people's political activism and the basis for democracy.
But 30 years have passed with no changes to it at all.
The need for constitutional revision has been highlighted by the political scandal surrounding ex-president Park Geun-hye last year, and all five major candidates of this year's presidential election -- including the current President Moon Jae-in -- pledged to amend the constitution.

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“There’s been plenty of debate in the National Assembly as well. Early this year, a special committee on constitutional reform was formed with dozens of lawmakers from all sides discussing various issues, from reorganizing power structures, to civil rights."

The most hotly debated is the presidential system.


"For the 1987 presidential election, the political leaders wanted to leave some possibility open for them to re-run in the near future if they fail, so chose a five-year, single-term presidency over a four-year, two-term one. Now, people think that system grants excessive authority to the president."

Other systems being suggested include a four-year, two-term presidency, a semi-presidential system and a parliamentary government.
Many see the semi-presidential system -- where the president is in charge of foreign affairs and the prime minister handles domestic affairs -- as a plausible middle ground.

Decentralization of power is another issue.


"When revising the constitution next year, I'm planning to add in articles that strengthen the regional governments' power and enable cabinet meeting with all regional leaders."
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Local governments in Korea need to go through the central government when resolving issues which overloads the central government.
Experts say, local governments need to be given the authority to come up with policies most appropriate for themselves and allocate finances to achieve innovation.


"The issues we face now like unemployment, an aging society and the fourth industrial revolution don't have one clear answer. So rather than the national government leading with one policy, it's better to have as many experiments held in different regions."

The National Assembly's special committee aims to have a joint proposal ready by February 2018.
So that a referendum can be held next June along with the local elections.


"Quite a few presidents pledged constitutional revision when they were candidates, but after they took office, they opposed it, saying it may hinder executing other policies. Later in their term, they'd bring up constitutional revision which many saw as a politically motivated move and wouldn't cooperate. But this time, the consensus on the need for constitutional revision is deeper than ever. I think it will be successful."

To reflect public opinion as much as possible, the parliament is receiving citizens' views through its website.
It also plans to hold public hearings, large-scale roundtable discussions, and opinion polls.


" There should be various opinions from the civil society on fairness and objectivity of the new constitution. So civil groups will have to lead the discussions among the public -- teaching them how our constitution is formed and why revising it is necessary."

It's an amendment that's been three decades coming after Korea's fast-paced development.
The tenth revision would need to reflect changes in people's lives and perception to stand as the basis for a more fair and transparent society.
Oh Jung-hee, Arirang News.
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