Sun, Mar 03, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Chen should give report on nation

It is too bad that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) missed the opportunity to deliver a state-of-the-nation report to the Legislative Yuan. Facing lukewarm and mixed responses from both opposition parties and the DPP, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) had to reluctantly call off its plan to invite Chen to make the address in the legislature.

The opposition parties' initial response to the TSU proposal was less than enthusiastic. After all, seeing Chen, with the grandeur of a president, address the legislature and the entire nation (since the event would probably be televised) would make KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) very jealous.

Therefore, Lin Yi-shih (林益世), KMT legislative caucus whip, said the proposal would be meaningless if it meant the president "coming all the way" to Legislative Yuan only to utter "nonsense." Lin even suggested the president should hold a press conference instead.

Of course, the KMT was ignoring the significance of such an address. As the president is popularly elected by the people, he is accountable to the people. On the other hand, as lawmakers are elected by voters as their representatives and advocates in the government, when the president addresses the legislature, he is essentially addressing the people. That is the real significance of the address. That kind of significance is lost if the president simply holds a televised press conference.

For the opposition parties, that kind of significance brings this country too close to a presidential system of government. After all, no agreement has been reached in the debate between the pan-green and pan-blue camps over which form of government Taiwan ought to have: presidential or cohabitation.

But the opposition has begun to warm to the idea of the address as a chance to turn the tables on the president. They said they would support the idea as long as the president could be questioned after the speech. If there is anything that Taiwan's legislators are good at, it is asking questions of government officials. They have perfected the art to the point that many well-qualified individuals had allegedly turned down invitations to serve in the Cabinet because of the humiliating treatment Cabinet members typically receive from lawmakers during interpellations.

But the ROC Constitution only provides for "a report on the state of the nation by the president," and mentions nothing about lawmakers raising questions. Furthermore, under the US system, from which the framers of the ROC Constitution got the idea for a state-of-the-nation address, the president simply makes the speech in front of Congress but does not need to answer any questions.

DPP lawmakers fear Chen may be greeted with hostility at the legislature, even if he doesn't answer any questions, so they oppose the idea as well. While that fear may be legitimate, it should not keep Chen from delivering his report. Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) used to deliver a state-of-the-nation address annually to the National Assembly, despite the presence of a very hostile opposition party, the DPP.

If Chen is truly determined to change the current semi-presidential form of government to a real presidential one, he must have the courage to face hostility in the legislature. We should create a custom of the president giving state-of-the-nation addresses to bring Taiwan even closer to a presidential form of government. Chen should accept the invitation when the opportunity comes again.

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