UPDATE : 2018.9.21 FRI 09:12
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President pledges more autonomy for local governments

President Moon Jae-in reaffirmed his efforts to delegate more authority to regional governments Thursday, calling for a constitutional amendment that would support such a move.

"Expanding local autonomy through a constitutional change is a task we must complete sooner or later," the president said while meeting with governors and other top officials from 17 provincial and major municipal governments throughout the nation.

The president said there was no difference of opinion between ruling and opposition parties on the need to amend the Constitution to enhance the autonomy of local governments, and he noted that all political parties and their presidential candidates had pledges to push for a Constitutional amendment to that end while campaigning for the May 9 presidential election.

Moon won the presidential by-election caused by the ousting of former leader Park Geun-hye.

His remarks, however, come amid an apparent stalemate between the ruling and main opposition parties over the scope and direction of the envisioned constitutional revision.

President Moon Jae-in (second from L) speaks at a special meeting with governors, mayors and other top officials from 17 provincial and municipal governments, held at the government complex in Sejong, 120 kilometers south of Seoul, on Feb. 1, 2018. (Yonhap)

The president insisted that rival parties shared the same opinion that a constitutional change must stipulate a decentralization of power.

"Even now, there appear to be no different views on the need to include decentralization when we revise the Constitution," he told the meeting, according to pool reports.

Thursday's meeting was held in Sejong, the country's de facto administrative capital located 120 kilometers south of Seoul. Sejong houses more than a dozen central government ministries and is also a symbol of decentralization and balanced development.

"Expanding the autonomy of local government is what you, mayors and governors, may want more than anyone else, but it's also a necessary task we must complete to enhance the status of local autonomies and regional governments," Moon said.

The president then pressed the rival parties to quickly reach agreement on what they could.

"Should that be the case, I believe there should be no reason (for political parties) to politically clash over a constitutional revision or politicize the issue as long as we place decentralization efforts at the center (of an amendment) and then add other issues over which the ruling and opposition parties have no difference of opinion," he said.

The president earlier said the government may be forced to spearhead the move to amend the Constitution should the rival parties fail to do so before the end of March.

"I believe a constitutional revision must be proposed before the end of March if it is to be put to a vote concurrently with the local elections," he said in a new year's press conference held Jan. 10, when he also noted that a separate vote on a constitutional revision could cost up to 120 billion won (US$112 million).

The local elections are scheduled to be held June 13.

President Moon Jae-in (fifth from L) poses for a group photo at a meeting to declare government visions for balanced development of the country in the special administrative city of Sejong, located some 120 kilometers south of Seoul, on Feb. 1, 2018. (Yonhap)

In a later meeting to unveil government plans for balanced development of the nation, also held in Sejong, the president promised additional support for the development of rural areas.

"Unfortunately, we are still very far from being able to claim balanced development of the nation," he said, noting half of the country's population continues to live in the capital zone, which only accounts for 12 percent of the country's land area.

"We will break away from the existing system of the central government spearheading the move and switch to a system where autonomous local governments will plan and organize policies and projects and the central government will support," Moon told the meeting, which was attended by some 500 central and local government officials.

To this end, the government will work to create more quality jobs outside of the capital region, the president said.

Also, the government will boost support for farmers and fishermen to help improve their quality of life, while also working to narrow social, economic and cultural gaps between residents in rural and urban areas.

"Our government's commitment to the nation's balanced development is firm. I have repeatedly promised to build a republic of strong local governments. Also, the presidential candidates of all political parties had promised to concurrently hold a vote on a constitutional revision along with the local elections. Should we miss this opportunity, a constitutional revision may be difficult to realize. I ask for active support of the political circles and the National Assembly," he said.

Hwi Won  edt@koeapost.com

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