Moon to Push Through Changes to Presidential Terms


President Moon Jae-in approved the preliminary draft of a plan on Tuesday to shorten the terms of Korean presidents and make them re-electable for another term.

But the draft fails to respond to widespread calls to curb presidents' near-regal powers and buffer them with more parliamentary checks and balances. The draft aims to remove some of the moral hazard that has spurred every previous president to amass as much illicit money as possible in the short span allotted them.

The draft requires amending the Constitution and will be submitted to the National Assembly. Once it is tabled, it must be put to vote before May 20. Although chances of it passing are low, it will put pressure on lawmakers to find ways of cleaning out the Augean stable of Korean politics in later drafts.

If the amendments do pass, they will be put to a referendum ahead of the regional elections on June 13.

Moon said he is tabling the bill now because the National Assembly "was given more than a year to discuss the plan, but there has been no progress, so we can't to delay it any longer."

Enthusiasm for constitutional change was at its peak among lawmakers amid the massive corruption scandal that brought down ex-President Park Geun-hye last year. But since then the National Assembly has descended into its usual squabbling over scraps.

The draft envisions reducing the current five-year, one-term presidential tenure to a four-year one with a possibility of re-election, but is soft on curbing the president's powers in favor of parliament.

Moon said the public does not support giving more power to lawmakers in order to keep the president in check. "The parliamentary or two-chamber government system does not fit the Korean political structure, at least at this stage," he claimed.

Park's old party, now renamed the Liberty Korea Party, was quick to call Moon out on the lack of checks and balances in the proposal. But Moon rejected its criticism. "The opposition party is criticizing the president's preparations for a constitutional amendment, which was a promise made to the public, and I believe this is not a responsible attitude for politicians to take," Moon said.

A key Cheong Wa Dae official said Moon "will table the bill on March 21 to give the National Assembly 60 days to review it." That means the vote will be held before May 20.

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority, which given the slim margin Moon's Minjoo Party has in the National Assembly is unlikely to materialize.