President of South Korea

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The President of the Republic of Korea is, according to the Constitution of the Republic of Korea, chief executive of the government, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the head of state of the Republic of Korea. The Constitution and the amended Presidential Election Act of 1987 provide for election of the president by direct, secret ballot, ending sixteen years of indirect presidential elections under the preceding two governments. The President is directly elected to a five-year term with no possibility of re-election. If a presidential vacancy should occur, a successor must be elected within sixty days, during which time presidential duties are to be performed by the prime minister or other senior cabinet members in the order of priority as determined by law. While in office, the chief executive lives in Cheong Wa Dae and is exempt from criminal liability except for insurrection or treason.

Since February 25, 2008, Lee Myung-bak has been the incumbent president.


Powers and duties of the president

Chapter 4 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea state the duties and the powers of the President

The president is required to

  • uphold the Constitution
  • preserve the safety and homeland of the Republic of Korea
  • work for the peaceful unification of Korea

Also, the president is given the powers

  • as the leader of the executive branch of government
  • as the commander-in-chief of the military of the Republic of Korea
  • to declare war
  • to hold referendums regarding issues of national importance
  • to issue executive orders
  • to issue medals in honor of service for the nation
  • to issue pardons
  • to declare a state of emergency suspending all laws or a state of martial law

If the National Assembly votes against the President's decisions, it will be declared void immediately.

The president may, at his own discretion, refer important policy matters to a national referendum, declare war, conclude peace and other treaties, appoint senior public officials, and grant amnesty (with the concurrence of the National Assembly). In times of serious internal or external turmoil or threat, or economic or financial crises, the president may assume emergency powers "for the maintenance of national security or public peace and order." Emergency measures may be taken only when the National Assembly is not in session and when there is no time for it to convene. The measures are limited to the "minimum necessary."

The 1987 Constitution removed the 1980 Constitution's explicit provisions that empowered the government to temporarily suspend the freedoms and rights of the people. However, the president is permitted to take other measures that could amend or abolish existing laws for the duration of a crisis. It is unclear whether such emergency measures could temporarily suspend portions of the Constitution itself. Emergency measures must be referred to the National Assembly for concurrence. If not endorsed by the assembly, the emergency measures can be revoked; any laws that had been overridden by presidential order regain their original effect. In this respect, the power of the legislature is more vigorously asserted than in cases of ratification of treaties or declarations of war, in which the Constitution simply states that the National Assembly "has the right to consent" to the president's actions. In a change from the 1980 Constitution, the 1987 Constitution stated that the president is not permitted to dissolve the National Assembly.

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