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[Editorial] Why now?

The 1987 constitutional amendment was primarily aimed at putting an end to military-backed dictatorships. With democracy fully restored now, few would dispute that this aim has been attained.

But the downside is what many regard as a flawed governance system. It is generally agreed that the president, banned from seeking a second term in office, has no more than three years in which to effectively pursue his political agenda. Lame duck status starts to set in by the time the five-year presidency is in its fourth year.

Now that there is little possibility of the nation being placed under a dictatorship again, the need for another amendment is acknowledged by the electorate. The most appealing among the amendment proposals is one permitting the president serving a four-year term to pursue a second term.

Against this backdrop, the ruling Grand National Party is holding a congress of its lawmakers on the issue of promoting constitutional amendment Tuesday. The party’s mainstream faction is promoting it as a party policy. But some groups show a lukewarm response while others voice outright opposition.

One of the legitimate questions some of the opponents are asking in public is: Why now? They wonder aloud if the advocates have a hidden political agenda when they are pushing for constitutional revision in the fourth year of President Lee Myung-bak’s term in office.

Had Lee’s supporters pursued it in 2010, if not earlier, not many would have called their sincerity into question. As it stands, many suspect that Lee’s protgs in the party are tempted to use constitutional amendment as a rallying cry, given that it is only a matter of time before loyalty for the president begins to wane among party members.

Moreover, presidential hopefuls are already jockeying for position. Among them is Rep. Park Geun-hye, a former party chair, who had a fierce contest with Lee for presidential nomination.

Indeed, President Lee would not be turned into a lame duck anytime soon if he should succeed in setting it as the main item of the nation’s political agenda with support from his backers in the party. But it appears to be too late for him to reverse the tide.

It is not opponents in the party alone who regard the pursuit of constitutional revision as ill-timed. According to an opinion poll conducted on Jan. 11, a majority of respondents favored the idea of launching the process of rewriting the Constitution when the next president is sworn in February 2013, or thereafter. Only 34.8 percent supported a proposal to amend the basic law before President Lee’s term expires.

Suspicions about the motive may not be the only reason why the proposal fails to elicit support from the public. As noted by a group of first-term and second-term lawmakers in the party, people are preoccupied with pressing problems, such as the soaring prices of daily necessities, home rental costs breaking through the roof and the foot-and-mouse disease that is causing the nation’s livestock industry to crumble. Simply put, constitutional amendment is none of their immediate concern.

Another serious problem is the Grand National Party’s rocky relations with the main opposition Democratic Party. They have improved little since the ruling party broke through the opposition party’s resistance and railroaded the 2011 budget bill through the National Assembly last month.

Should it adopt the promotion of constitutional amendment as its policy, the ruling party would find it near impossible to win support from the Democratic Party, which would be critical in setting the amendment process in motion. All that the advocates are doing is waste what little is left of Lee’s precious political capital. The sooner they abandon their desire for constitutional reform, the better it will be for them as well as the president.
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