Fri, May 02, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Political marriages of convenience

By Wang Tuoh 王拓

Since the pan-blue camp finalized its joint ticket featuring KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), society's focus has shifted to whether President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) will team up again for next year's presidential election. While speculation mounts on the matter, one rumor has it that Chen might have KMT Vice Chairman Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) as his running mate.

Presidential candidates always select their partners in the hope of adding to their electoral support, giving due consideration to each party's political maneuvers. Less emphasis, however, is put on overall national policy and development since the vice president is not given real power.

It is cause for concern that the vice president might end up becoming nothing more than an electoral tool if the post is used only for electoral considerations. At the same time, hype about running mates may distract voters from campaign platforms (all you need to do is put a political star on the ticket). We therefore need to reflect on the role and position of the vice president from a constitutional angle.

Basically, because the development of the Constitution has long been constrained by historical factors and the rule of man (as opposed to the rule of law), in addition to the profound influence of the US, the nation's constitutional system and power structure are tilting toward a presidential system. Although several constitutional amendments have sought to shift it toward a "semi-presidential" system, they often increased the president's power, rather than curtailing it.

In particular, since direct elections for the president and vice president were first held, all party leaders have viewed the presidency as their lifetime ambition.

Strategically, a presidential candidate always chooses his or her running mate out of consideration of his or her electoral support.

So Chen teamed up with Lu in 2000, aiming to achieve a gender balance and canvass support from female and pro-independence voters. The pairing of Soong with Chang Chao-hsiung (張昭雄) was meant to provide a counter-balance to Soong's mainlander image. The Lien-Siew ticket was based on the consideration of integrating administrative resources.

It is no different in presidential elections in the US. Presidential candidates there also pick their partners with an eye on increasing their electoral support. According to the US Constitution, the post of vice president is merely a stand-by position with no power. Political science scholars usually describe the US vice president as the "fifth wheel."

A look at Taiwan's constitutional history shows that most of the vice presidents during the KMT's autocratic rule did not have any policy-making power. Former vice president Li Yuan-tzu (李元簇), in office at the early years of former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) government, did a very good job in playing a silent role. After the first popular presidential election in 1996, Lien would not have been able to exercise any power as vice president if Lee had not appointed him to serve concurrently as premier.

Although constitutional amendments stipulate that presidential and vice presidential candidates must pair up on the same ticket and although the legitimacy of the public will and the voter base cannot be divided between the two, this does not mean that the president's power can be shared. The Constitution does not allow the vice president to ask for a role in policy-making unless he or she is authorized by the president to do so.

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