South Korea – Semi-presidentialism on the constitutional agenda

I admit freely that I have changed my mind about the classification of South Korea as semi-presidential. Now, I do not include it in my list of semi-presidential countries.

Why? Article 63 (1) states: “The National Assembly may pass a recommendation for the removal of the Prime Minister or a State Council member from office”. So, responsibility to the legislature is individual (as in a number of Latin American countries that are not classed as semi-presidential) and the National Assembly may only “recommend” the dismissal of the person concerned. The president can refuse the recommendation. So, for me, that article is not sufficient for South Korea to be classed as semi-presidential.

In addition, Article 86 (1) states: “The Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President with the consent of the National Assembly”. For me, this clause provides a more substantive reason for classing South Korea as semi-presidential. However, again, the consent is only personal, not collective.

The bottom line is that South Korea, constitutionally, is on the cusp of semi-presidentialism. Obviously, in practice, the president is very strong. On balance, I decided to exclude South Korea from my list of semi-presidential countries, though clearly others may wish to include it and on the basis of Art. 86 (1) with some justification.

Anyway, it is possible that the situation may soon become a little clearer. For over a year, the South Korean National Assembly has been considering constitutional reforms. In August last year, the Assembly’s report recommended that the country should adopt either semi-presidentialism or presidentialism. There is a more detailed report here.

Then, on 6 April this year Ahn Sang-soo, parliamentary leader of the Grand National Party (GNP), which currently holds a majority of seats in the Assembly, proposed that parliament initiate constitutional revisions after the local elections on 2 June.

Obviously, whether or not it does, whether or not there is agreement if it were to do so, and whether or not there is then agreement on semi-presidentialism means that there is a long way between South Korea discussing the introduction of a clear semi-presidential regime and it actually happening. However, as in Italy, at least semi-presidentialism is currently on the political agenda.

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