Tue, Sep 30, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: New Constitution is needed

At the Democratic Progressive Party's 17th anniversary celebrations on Sunday, party chairman and President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) announced that he will push for a new Constitution in 2006. The opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party (PFP) immediately accused Chen of abandoning the promises he made in his presidential inauguration speech in 2000 -- that he would not declare independence, change the country's name or promote a referendum to change the status quo as long as China has no intent of using military force against Taiwan. The opposition has accused Chen of setting a timetable for independence. Chen's announcement has turned next year's presidential election into a showdown between independence and unification.

In terms of constitutional history, the Constitution of the Republic of China is a special example. Legally, it has been in effect for more than half a century -- it was promulgated on Jan. 1, 1947. Strictly speaking, however, it has never really been put into effect. Written for 500 million people (China's population at the time), it has long been foisted upon Taiwan's population of 23 million. This absurd incompatibility with reality is recognized by the public, but whether to amend the Constitution or simply write a new one has been a source of dispute between political parties.

For a long time, the DPP has had internal disagreements over these two approaches. There has always been a powerful force within the party calling for a new Constitution. Former party chairmen Huang Erh-hsuan (黃爾璇) and Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) as well as former party legislator Cheng Pao-ching (鄭寶清) all presented draft constitutions.

In 1997, then party chairman Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) adopted a different approach when he agreed to work with then president and KMT chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) to amend the Constitution. The amendments led to the abolishment of the National Assembly and the provincial government as well as the establishment of a semi-presidential system. The Constitution was amended six times under Lee's government.

Even though the amendments resolved some of the problems facing democratization, they could not resolve the fundamental problem -- the Constitution simply does not fit Taiwan.

Chen's announcement on Sunday will revive calls within the DPP for a new Constitution. Chen has political considerations in making the proposal. First of all, Chen can absorb the pro-independence forces and set a political goal over and above Lee's and the Taiwan Solidarity Union's (TSU) platform calling for a name change. He can then regain a leadership position of pro-independence forces. Next, he can deepen the theme of next year's presidential campaign -- a showdown between "one China" and "one country on each side." Third, he can provoke China into making some inappropriate response -- perhaps a repeat of the 1996 missile crisis or former premier Zhu Rongji's (朱鎔基) threats on the eve of the 2000 election.

Of course, Chen is also taking a major risk by proposing a new Constitution. By accusing Chen of pushing for independence, the opposition camp may arouse fears of a crisis in the Taiwan Strait. Such attempts to spark fear in the public, however, did not succeed in 1996 and 2000. Whether they will succeed this time by causing middle-of-the-road voters to dump the green camp and vote blue remains to be seen.

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