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Korea - The President Powers

The executive right of the government is exercised by the Executive Branch headed by the President. At present, the President is elected through a direct election for a term of five years. Under the Constitution, the President cannot be reelected for a second term. The Cabinet Meeting, in which the President and the Prime Minister serve as the Chair and the Vice Chair, respectively, deliberates on important policies under the rights accorded to the Executive Branch of the government. In the absence of the President, the Prime Minister controls the ministries of the government on his/her behalf. As of 2018, the Executive Branch of the government operated two boards, four offices, twenty three ministries, seventeen administrations, and six committees. The President is the head of the executive branch, and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. In case of the President's death or disability, the Prime Minister will temporarily act as the President according to an order of succession provided by law. The President is elected for a single five-year term by popular vote through universal, equal, direct, secret balloting. The power and duties of the President are defined in the following six areas.

First, the President, as head of state, symbolizes and represents the whole nation in both the governmental system and foreign relations. He receives foreign diplomats, awards decorations and other honors, and performs pardoning functions. Upon inauguration, he is to take the oath of his duties to safeguard the independence, territorial integrity, and continuity of the state, as well as to protect the Constitution. In addition, he is entrusted with the unique duty to pursue the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula.

Second, the President, in his capacity as chief executive, enforces all laws passed by the legislature and issues orders and decrees for the enforcement of these laws. The President has the full power to direct the State Council and oversee a varying number of advisory organs and executive agencies. He is authorized to appoint public officials, including the Prime Minister and heads of executive agencies. Third, the President, in his capacity as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, has extensive authority over military policy, including the power to declare war.

Fourth, the President is chief policy maker and chief lawmaker. He may propose legislative bills to the National Assembly or express his views to the legislature in person or in writing. The President cannot dissolve the National Assembly; rather, it is the National Assembly that may hold the President accountable under the Constitution by means of the impeachment process.

Fifth, the President is vested with extensive emergency powers. In case of internal turmoil, external menace, natural disaster or severe financial or economic crisis, the President can take emergency financial and economic actions or issue orders that have the effect of law. The President can exercise these powers only when there is insufficient time to convene the National Assembly, and the actions or orders are absolutely essential to maintaining national security or public order. The President must subsequently notify, and obtain the concurrence of, the National Assembly. If he is unsuccessful in doing so, the measures will be nullified.

Sixth, the President is also empowered to declare a state of martial law in accordance with the provisions of the law in time of war, armed rebellion, or similar national emergency. The exercise of such emergency power is, however, subject to subsequent approval of the National Assembly.

Presidents are currently limited to a single five-year term. The constitution should allow the president a second term in office and the terms themselves should be longer, President Park Geun-hye said 24 October 2016. President Park Geun-hye revealed a shift to her stance on the much-touted constitutional amendment, which she had previously expressed a clear opposition to. In a speech to parliament, Park called on parliament to create a special committee to discuss revising the constitution, and called for the change to be completed before her term ends.

The president said the current system makes it difficult for the government to maintain policy continuity, including those involving its North Korean neighbor which frequently issues threats against it. President Park said that the single-term five-year presidency has led Pyongyang to think that Seoul's North Korea policies, too, expire with the end of each administration, allowing the regime to justify continuing with its nuclear and missile programs. She also said that five-year economic policy directions have made it difficult for the nation's large businesses to come up with investment plans for the longer term.

"Through the single-term presidency, it is difficult to maintain policy continuance, see results of policy and engage in unified foreign policy," she said. "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."

Park's term expired in February 2018. She insisted that a second term would not apply to her but to her successors. To establish a new 2017 system, the president said that a governmental apparatus will be created for the aim of overhauling the Constitution. She also asked lawmakers to found a special parliamentary committee to collect public opinions on the matter. The political opposition, which in the past has supported amending the constitution, rejected Park's call, saying it would not participate in any discussions on the subject. South Korea adopted the current system in 1987, ending decades of military-backed dictatorships, including one by Park's father, Park Chung-hee.

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Page last modified: 14-01-2018 18:38:23 ZULU