Wed, Mar 06, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Keep party and state separate

Two years after the first change in ruling parties in Taiwan, the DPP is at a major crossroads as it attempts to chart its future direction. The most fundamental question facing the party is whether it should it integrate its operations by having the president of the nation simultaneously serve as party chairman.

Is anyone really surprised that DPP Chairman Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) is strongly in favor of having President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) take over the party chairman office? The long-running rivalry between the two men is no secret. But it is precisely because of this tug-of-war that Hsieh knows better than anyone the true powerlessness of a party's chairman.

As the first person from the DPP to be president, Chen enjoys overwhelming support within and without the party. However, attempts to coordinate with the party about national policy has largely been a failure, as amply demonstrated by the inability of the nine-person task force of high-ranking DPP members from the party headquarters, the Presidential Office and Executive Yuan to play any meaningful role in policymaking. The group was set up to help integrate and coordinate the party and the administration.

Hsieh has made it clear that Chen is the one calling the shots. When asked whether he will run for re-election as party chairman, Hsieh said the decision was up to the president. When asked about the contradiction between the integration proposal and Chen's promise during his presidential campaign to withdraw from party activities if elected, Hsieh said campaigns are the party's biggest task and there is no need to help Chen out of his promise now since he stumped so heavily for the party's candidates last December. Basically Hsieh was saying that since Chen is in essence the underground chairman of the party, he might as well get the public title too.

While one can sympathize with the coordination problems the DPP has experienced with the Chen administration, the suggestion that the president add the party chairmanship to his list of duties must be resoundly rejected. Taiwan is still trying to rectify problems created by the KMT's long history of mixing national and party business -- witness the debate over the KMT's acquisitions of its assets. Under the Chiang family's autocratic rule, Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) simultaneously occupied the presidency and KMT chairman's office, as did Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) maintained the tradition. The people of Taiwan vividly remember how, in those days, the government was at most an appendix of the KMT.

While integrating party and government machinery this way may, as argued by Hsieh, improve government efficiency, the price is simply too great. To do so would not only harm the image of the DPP but it would be a major step back from Taiwan's democratic achievements. The concentration of too much unchecked power in the hands of anyone is never considered a good thing. Plus, as the president of the country, it is only right that Chen remain somewhat, if not completely, above and beyond routine party operations.

While in many democracies, such as Britain, the head of the ruling party is also the prime minister, the DPP can easily find examples of the separation of roles between a nation's elected leader and the head of its ruling party. Unfortunately for Hsieh, such examples also highlight the fact that party chairpeople are usually completely overshadowed by the elected leader -- who are seen as the nominal heads of their parties. Can anyone -- off the top of their head -- name the chairman of the US Republican Party?

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