Moon Seeks to End South Korea's `Imperial' Presidential System

(Bloomberg) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Thursday vowed to rewrite his country’s constitution to dilute presidential powers and scrap the office’s term limit to boost continuity of policy.

Moon Seeks to End South Korea's `Imperial' Presidential System

Moon’s proposals involve replacing the single five-year limit with a maximum of two, four-year spells. Other plans include:

  • Lowering the voting age to 18 from 19
  • Steps to strengthen the prime minister’s authority, and weaken presidential powers by removing some appointment rights
  • Including clauses and changing key phrases to bolster human rights

"It’s time to adopt the two, four-year system to help politicians to take full responsibility and run state affairs in a stable way," the presidential Blue House said in a statement. Moon made it clear that the expanded term limit will only apply after he leaves office.

Opposition lawmakers immediately rejected Moon’s plans to end the so-called Imperial Presidency system, saying the move should be driven by the National Assembly, not the president himself, in a sign Moon could face a long battle to change rules that make every leader a lame duck in their final years.

"There has been broad agreement across society that the Constitution should be revised to rebalance presidential power, but the chances of Moon’s bill being passed are close to zero due to opposition objections," said Ka Sang-joon, who teaches Korean politics at Dankook University.

Difficult Math

Moon’s proposal needs backing by least two-thirds of the National Assembly -- where his party only controls 41 percent of the seats. It also needs public approval in a national referendum, which Moon wants to hold on June 13 to coincide with local elections.

A Gallup Korea poll in January showed that 46 percent of respondents preferred bringing in two, four-year presidential terms.

Previous presidents and candidates have pledged over the past few decades to change the constitution to prevent cosy ties with the country’s top conglomerates. Yet each time, the issue was put on the back-burner due to political wrangling. Attention intensified last year when Moon’s predecessor, Park Geun-hye, was indicted over a corruption scandal.

South Korea’s limit on presidential terms came into effect after a pro-democracy movement in 1987 forced the military junta to agree to a constitutional revision to allow voters to directly choose their president.

A bill will be officially submitted Monday. Parliament then has up to 60 days to review legislation before deciding whether to put it to a referendum.

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