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South Korean President Proposes Two-Term Possibility for Future Presidents

  • Kurt Achin

South Korea's president is proposing a constitutional revision that would allow future presidents to serve two four-year terms instead of the current single five-year term. Political opponents accuse the president of introducing the issue to distract from the political struggles he faces during his final year in office. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun took his proposal for a new presidential system to the people Tuesday in a live television address.

Mr. Roh proposes letting presidents serve as many as two terms of four years instead of the current one five-year term. He says that will resolve many drawbacks of the current system.

The current single five-year presidential term was introduced in 1987, in reaction to decades of authoritarian rule. The most commonly cited example is the 18-year rule of President Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated in 1979.

President Roh suggested Tuesday that South Korea has outgrown the need for such a limit. He said the single-term system means presidents are not held accountable for their actions, because their performance is not evaluated by voters after the fact.

Mr. Roh also says South Korea's presidents and its lawmakers should end their terms at the same time.

He says the current mismatch in terms wastes national resources and generates unnecessary political conflict.

The next term of South Korea's legislature, the National Assembly, ends in May 2012, whereas the coming presidential term - under the five-year system - will not expire until February 2013.

Regular presidential elections are scheduled for next December, and it appears Mr. Roh is set to leave office the following February under a cloud. He is widely perceived to have mishandled South Korean foreign and economic policy, and his approval rating hovers at 10 percent. The leadership of his Uri Party and most of the membership are expected to abandon him after a party meeting next month.

Officials of the opposition Grand National Party, who enjoy a strong lead in the most recent polling, have criticized Mr. Roh's constitutional proposals as a political gambit. They say it is inappropriate to take up constitutional reforms until after the next president takes office.

Yoon Jong Bin, a political scientist at Myoungji University here in Seoul, suspects the proposal is more about Mr. Roh than about the presidency itself.

He says Mr. Roh entered office with high reform aspirations, but has not accomplished much. He says launching this debate at this time may be a way to change perceptions about Mr. Roh's years in office.

In order for any constitutional revision to succeed, it would have to be approved by two-thirds of South Korea's legislature, and then be passed by a national referendum.

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