Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times columnist, wrote in an essay on the recent US election that no matter who the winner is, there must be a government of national unity. Otherwise the new president simply will not be able to govern.
As there was only a 0.2 per-cent gap between the percentage of popular votes won by Al Gore and George W. Bush, whoever wins the presidency will lack a mandate from one half of the population, Friedman argues. It is therefore not enough that the new administration merely be bipartisan -- there must be a government of national unity and a cabinet reflective of the make-up of the voters to "rule from the center."
Friedman, only half-jokingly, drew up a Cabinet members' list for the ideal government. If Bush wins, "there is no doubt," he says, that his secretary of state should be Bill Clinton, his secretary of the interior Gore and his UN representative Joe Lieberman. If Gore wins, his secretary of education must be Bush, his secretary of defense Dick Cheney and his secretary of state, "unquestionably," Colin Powell.
The title of Friedman's essay, `The Original Sin,' helps us to grasp the importance of his argument. He claims the next US president would be "born in sin," as the result of a too-close-to-call election caused by the "original sins" of the US constitutional framework (ie, the popular votes and the Electoral College votes). Faced with these sins, the president cannot help but accept a government of national unity. Though unprecedented, this solution could redeem the new president's sins.
The new resident of the White House might simply turn a blind eye to Friedman's advice. But his reasoning -- "from original sin to a national unity government" -- should inspire both the US and Taiwan.
There are many reasons for Taiwan's political turmoil. The most crucial one is that political figures from both the ruling and opposition parties, but especially the president, have long refused to face the original sin inherent in our Constitution. The president is still reluctant to admit that he was born a sinner.
The original sin that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) should face up to consists of three elements. The first is the fact that he is a minority president, elected with less than 40 percent of the vote. The second is that the DPP is still a minority in the legislature. The third is the semi-presidential system. But Chen has adamantly refused to face his original sins. Instead, he hoodwinked both himself and the people into believing in his government for all the people. After that, he turned down Shih Ming-teh's (施明德) advice to establish a majority alliance in the legislature. Finally, Chen enhanced his own power but weakened that of the premier in contravention of the spirit of the semi-presidential system.
All of the DPP's current leaders, however, participated in the amendment process on the six occasions on which the Constitution was amended during the past decade. They unimously supported presidential elections based on simple majorities, restrictions on the president's power to dismiss the legislature and a semi-presidential system similar to that of France. Undoubtedly, they have been like Adam, in giving birth to "the original sins" of the Constitution. But now Adam either refuses to admit or has forgotten that he ate the forbidden fruit. And he refuses to seek redemption by being honest.
First, Chen has seen his two governments fail. He then spoiled his own attempt to bring about a reconciliation of the ruling and opposition parties. Now he wants to convene the National Affairs Conference (國是會議), but nobody seems to want to team up with him. He wants to rewrite the Constitution but lacks the power to do so. He wants the DPP to be a majority party in the legislature. But he does not feel confident about it, since a legislative election will not be held for another year. Now he is simply biting his nails, with no alternatives left.
Shih once suggested that Chen establish a majority alliance but he declined. As an opposition alliance already exists, it is now too late even if he wants to. But other than vent his spleen, what could he do about it?
Provided Chen faces "the original sin" embedded in our constitution with honesty, he is still likely to live to fight another day. If he decides to offer a government of national unity, he had better do so soon. He should not delay his decision until he is compelled to sign a ceasefire with the opposition, when he will put himself to shame and suffer greater losses.
Wang Chien-chuang is president of The Journalist magazine.
Translated by Gatian Wang
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