S. Korean president proposes amendment to end single-term limit
October 24, 2016
SEOUL, South Korea — President Park Geun-hye has proposed amending South Korea’s constitution to end the single term limit, saying the system hinders the government’s ability to maintain continuity on policies regarding North Korea and other issues.
The last constitutional amendment in 1987 limited presidents to a single five-year term to end decades of dictatorship and usher in a democratic system of government.
Park said the system served its purpose but has become counterproductive.
“Now it has turned into a jacket that does not fit,” she said in an address to parliament Monday. “Through the single-term presidency, it is difficult to maintain policy continuance, see results of policy and engage in unified foreign policy.”
Park said she has asked parliament to form a special committee to start discussions immediately about the revisions with the goal of adoption by the time her term ends in February 2018.
South Korean law requires that a constitutional amendment be approved by a two-thirds majority in the single-chamber assembly, then put to a national referendum.
Park did not say whether she planned to run again, although her office pointed out that the constitution explicitly states that any change in term limits would not be applicable to the incumbent.
“I’ve reached a conclusion that we can no longer delay discussing amending the constitution, which was also my campaign promise, to break down limits we face in the big picture for the Republic of Korea’s sustainable development,” she said.
The single-term limit made it difficult to pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons program because of the looming possibility of policy shifts after the next election in December 2017, Park said.
The proposal comes amid growing calls for changes in the way the government is run, with some saying too much power is concentrated in the presidency and a parliamentary system should be established.
Legislators with the main opposition party, which merged with another group last week and renamed itself, in English, as the Democratic Party of Korea, have generally favored a change. But critics said the timing suggests Park was trying to distract the public from a burgeoning corruption scandal involving a woman purported to be her longtime confidante.
“We cannot agree to have discussions on constitutional revisions that would help hide the unfolding corruption scandals,” Rep. Youn Kwan-suk was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.
Lee Junhan, a political science professor at Incheon National University, southwest of Seoul, agreed the move appeared to be political.
“It’s a time when support for the president is going down,” he said. “Politicians are going to care about a constitutional amendment. So she might have wanted to turn their attention the other way.”
Stars and Stripes staffer Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.