The Presidential Commission on Policy Planning has decided to appoint an ad-hoc panel to prepare a constitutional revision bill as the National Assembly is deadlocked over rewriting the basic law.
Officials said the ad-hoc panel will come up with a bill by the middle of next month, after collecting public opinions through hearings and opinion polls.
The presidential commission’s announcement came two days after President Moon Jae-in, expressing frustration over the slow progress made at the legislature, asked the panel to prepare a bill as soon as possible so that it can be put to a national referendum on the June 13 local election day.
Constitutionally, there is no problem with Moon’s position, because the president -- along with a majority of lawmakers -- is entitled to propose a revision of the supreme law.
Besides, the National Assembly -- more specifically the ruling and opposition parties -- is under fire for making little progress after it launched an ad-hoc committee for constitutional amendment in late 2016.
But it’s wrong for Moon to push for a government-led revision of the basic law. Rewriting the Constitution, last revised in 1987 and thus quite outdated, is not a thing to do unilaterally as former dictatorial governments did. It requires a broad national consensus, which can only be attainted by a compromise between major political parties.
It is certain that a bill provided by the president will face backlash from the opposition parties and their conservative supporters.
The ruling camp and the opposition groups have already been clashing over some ideologically sensitive issues, like the inclusion of the 2016 candlelight vigils that helped oust former President Park Geun-hye in the preamble.
The government-proposed bill may also reflect Moon’s position of focusing more on decentralization and protection of rights than introducing a new power structure aimed at curbing the power of the president. In short, any bill prepared by the government will only exacerbate political strife.
Another fundamental question is whatever bill proposed by Moon would have no chance of getting to the national referendum because it should be first approved by two-thirds of lawmakers. That will be impossible without the cooperation of the Liberty Korea Party, which controls 117 seats in the 296-member legislature.
This raises suspicion that Moon is pushing for a government-authored bill as part of the ruling party’s strategy for the June 13 local elections, the first major polls since the president took office last May.
The suspicion is based on the presumption that the president and the ruling party could place the blame for the failure to fulfill the political community’s promise to amend the Constitution by the day of the local elections.
The Liberty Korea Party too cannot evade criticism that it sets its sights only on the election. It is widely believed that the party opposes putting a bill for amending the Constitution on the day of local elections because Moon and the ruling party could publicize it as their own accomplishment. Party officials also noted that holding a referendum simultaneously would also draw more voters than usual, which often works against conservative candidates.
That is nothing but a shallow calculation and the party’s reversal of its position -- it also had agreed to put an amendment bill to referendum on the election day but now insists that it needs more time for discussions -- can never be justified.
What’s more condemnable is that the party has yet to prepare its own proposal. Party officials now say they would work out a bill by March, but still skepticism prevails.
The situation is similar even at the ruling Democratic Party. It outlined its proposal as late as last week, but the bill itself lacked details about what power structure to take. There is a convincing suspicion that the ruling party which had called for a constitutional revision to curtail the power of the president before the impeachment of Park now does not want to seek a radical change.
This adds to the reasons why Moon should not push for a government-led revision of the Constitution. This, in turn, means the ruling and opposition parties should speed up their work.