Fri, Mar 07, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Intrigue surrounds legislative reforms

By Wang Yeh-lin 王業立

At a meeting of the DPP's Central Standing Committee on Feb. 25, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) again proposed reforming the Legislative Yuan. Emphasizing his view that the demand for reform constituted a "popular movement," he called for a petition drive to collect 1 million signatures and accelerate the process. To ensure that the public fully understood the reform, he said that its sole aim should be to reduce the number of legislative seats to 150.

I have mixed feelings about seeing the DPP launch such a movement three years after coming to power. Legislative reform was part of Chen's campaign platform in the 2000 election. Given that Chen has wasted three-years worth of opportunities to pursue reform, his proposal now has the distinct whiff of an electoral ploy.

All issues aside, legislative chaos is a long-standing fact, and public dissatisfaction with the legislature is no secret. It is surprising, however, that a measure backed by such high levels of popular support is actually being pushed by those in power. In the meantime, the opposition's reaction to this issue has reinforced the public's impression of its "anti-reform" conservatism. Apparently, electoral ploy or not, Chen has gained considerable credit with voters in this opening bout.

From an objective point of view, the legislature does indeed require reform, but reducing the number of lawmakers is certainly not the crux of the matter. In accordance with populist logic, however, reducing the number of seats has become the movement's sole demand. In terms of both ease of implementation and sheer effectiveness, introducing measures like a "two-vote system" would be preferable to reducing the number of legislators, which would require a constitutional amendment. It is hardly surprising that the DPP's strategy is prompting opposition skepticism.

In fact, comprehensive legislative reform should include three major elements. First, reform of the Legislative Yuan's internal rules -- including those on the interpellation system, the committee system, the inter-party negotiation mechanism and conflicts of interest.

Second, the passage of a set of "sunshine laws," including a political contributions law, a political party law and lobbying law as well as revision of the Election and Recall Law (選罷法).

Third, reform of the electoral system, including the establishment of a "single-member district, two-vote system" and the reduction of the number of seats.

The first two can be done by the legislature on its own. The third component requires constitutional amendment. The introduction of legislation and amendment of the Constitution will require the support of the opposition parties. The DPP's first priority should therefore be to issue an invitation to the opposition parties to begin inter-party consultations, rather than taking to the streets.

Opposition legislators should remember that when KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) campaigned for the presidency in 2000, they both supported reform of the electoral system. Moreover, on the eve of elections for the Fifth Legislative Yuan, each party caucus in the legislature also signed a joint petition agreeing to reform of the electoral system.

I fear that if they now make excuses to condemn proposals that they once supported, they will alienate middle-ground voters. As the next presidential election approaches, one hopes that all parties will stop their bickering. If they can really make headway on the many issues of legislative reform, that will not only help to boost their images and their prospects in the polls but might even finally enable legislative reform, delayed for so long, to be realized.

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