Tue, Oct 07, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Will Chen be able to keep new promises?

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has announced that he will pursue a new constitution in 2006 if he is re-elected next year. Voters may remember several important campaign platforms announced by Chen prior to the 2000 presidential election.

If elected, the first thing he would do is to abolish the National Assembly through a referendum, convene a constitutional reform conference to complete amendments to the Constitution and put the constitutional amendments to a referendum.

Chen did not use terms such as "creating a constitution" back then. But his recent call to "establish a constitution" shares the same logic as replacing the National Assembly with a constitutional reform conference and making a final decision through a referendum.

The major goals to be achieved in the new constitution are reducing the number of legislative seats by half, adopting a two-vote system with single-member electoral districts and choosing between a presidential system and a Cabinet system. These are certainly the nation's major problems, and also the key points of the constitutional reforms that Chen tried to promote after he was sworn in.

There's nothing new in Chen's recent pledge. It is similar to his campaign platform four years ago and the policies he wanted to push through in the early stage of his presidency. Now the focus of the public attention is whether creating a new constitution means a step toward declaring independence and whether this runs counter to his "Five Nos" promise.

Why did Chen fail to carry out his previous promises? If he wins re-election, can he make good on his promise of creating a new constitution?

Under the current legislative structure, it is almost impossible for Chen's government to conduct constitutional reforms from within the system. Why didn't he convene the constitutional reform conference -- an idea he put forth before the 2000 election -- after his inauguration, since it would have been a way of amending the Constitution outside the system? Probably because of the power gap between the ruling and opposition parties, as well as pressure from the US.

Some DPP members have not given up on promoting these reforms. They plan to hold a referendum on the day of the presidential election to garner public support for legislative reforms and, riding on the back of public pressure, push forth constitutional reforms.

If the DPP wins a majority of seats in the next legislature, it can promote constitutional reforms through different methods other than creating a new constitution. If the DPP is not the majority party after Chen is re-elected, will he directly resort to the method of creating a new constitution?

This possibility exists. Some DPP think tanks are dissatisfied with the "incremental" constitutional reforms implemented during former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) administration and are eager to accomplish the reforms during a second Chen term. This idea, however, will face the same difficulties Chen has experienced during his first term.

When the ruling party does not hold a legislative majority and intends to adopt methods outside the system to amend the Constitution or create a new one, it still cannot win over the opposition parties. The opposition will capitalize on their legislative majority to boycott policies and even trigger a bigger political crisis.

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