Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 8 News List

New Constitution for a new nation

By Joseph Wu 吳釗燮

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) declared at the DPP anniversary party that 2006 would be a good time for Taiwan to draft a new Constitution. The proclamation was immediately denounced by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) as setting an agenda to pursue Taiwan's independence.

However, for anyone who understands the country's painful history of political development, drafting a new Constitution is certainly more than an agenda for pursuing Taiwan's independence.

The Constitution of modern-day Taiwan was drafted in 1947 in Nanjing, China, by the KMT government. The Constitution was designed to suit the large and populous China.

The KMT government was defeated by the communists in 1949 and was forced to retreat to Taiwan to regroup. But the KMT government continued to lay claims of sovereignty over China. Subsequently, they made the Nanjing Constitution the supreme legal document in Taiwan.

As Taiwan's democratization gained momentum in the late 1980s, the fallacies and problems inherent in the Constitution were brought to the attention of liberal intellectuals. For example, the system of government follows neither the American presidential model nor the British parliamentary model. According to the Constitution, the top leader did not have to be elected and the electoral systems for the three chambers of parliament caused confusion. And the government had an Examination Yuan that collided with the Bureau of Civil Administration.

While some argued that Taiwan had to write a new Constitution to straighten out all the problems and allow the Constitution to be based on a single philosophy, many thought that a slight revision would suffice. The KMT, which had the majority in both the National Assembly and the Legislative Yuan, ignored the voices calling for the drafting of a new Constitution.

Subsequently, six rounds of revisions were made by the KMT government after martial law was lifted. Some of these revisions were quite significant -- as in the case of the provisions calling for direct elections of the president, the streamlining of the Taiwan Provincial Government and the "suspension" of the National Assembly.

However, the problems continue to arise and issues are as confusing as ever, despite the efforts by the previous KMT administration. There is still intense debate about whether Taiwan's political system is presidential, parliamentary or semi-presidential.

The electoral system of the legislature still encourages party infighting and discourages party discipline. The Taiwan Provincial Government still exists and legally the National Assembly continues to be the body responsible for revising the Constitution.

The widely different interpretations of the constitutionality of rewriting the Constitution have thus become one of the most serious impediments to Taiwan's democratic consolidation.

The KMT and the PFP to this day argue that, since the DPP does not have a majority in the Legislative Yuan, Chen should (according to the French semi-presidential model) be stripped of any real political power. On the campaign trail, Soong continues to brag about his record as the Taiwan governor and argues that it was a mistake to streamline the Provincial Government.

To any political scientist, constant debate over the Constitution, the ultimate rulebook for all political games in any democracy, is one of the most serious threats to the survival of a young democracy.

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