New Constitution for a new nation
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.
\nHowever, 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.
\nThe 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.
\nThe 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.
\nAs 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.
\nWhile 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.
\nSubsequently, 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.
\nHowever, 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.
\nThe 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.
\nThe widely different interpretations of the constitutionality of rewriting the Constitution have thus become one of the most serious impediments to Taiwan's democratic consolidation.
\nThe 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.
\nTo 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.
\nMoreover, legislators have the responsibility to adopt proposals for the revision of the Constitution, but the quality of the legislators -- as a result of the electoral system -- has caused serious public distrust.
\nThe public has even voiced its desire for a drastic reduction of the number of the legislators, as was evidenced in the 2001 Legislative Yuan elections when all the major political parties signed a petition to do just that. Alas, once the politicians were comfortably elected, nothing happened.
\nThe public consensus seems to be that a referendum has become the most important means to bypass the entanglement of the legislative process. It therefore must be given proper constitutional status -- as it has in many other democracies -- as a means to amend the Constitution.
\nAll of these issues require a comprehensive examination of the Constitution and the adoption of a new Constitution.
\nThe KMT government had its chance to revise the Constitution in installments, but failed miserably. It is time for Taiwan to think of a suitable package that will properly represent our modern society, for it makes no sense for any major politician or political party to participate in a presidential election while arguing that the president should have no executive power.
\nAt the threshold of Taiwan's democratic consolidation, the DPP -- as a responsible government and a responsible political party -- believes that the public ought to think about adopting a new Constitution.
\nThe DPP believes that 2006 marks an appropriate time to address the adoption of a new Constitution. It is timely because the legislative elections will be concluded at the end of next year and a two-year period will be ample time for the country to have sufficient discussions and for political parties to work out their differences.
\nJoseph Wu is the deputy secretary-general to the president.
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