President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) announcement that he wants to write a new constitution in 2006 has resulted in bickering between the ruling and the opposition parties. Although Chen portrayed his idea as an attempt to initiate constitutional reform on key issues, some accused him of trying to provoke China and create electoral momentum for the pan-green camp. Others portrayed the statement as an attempt to push for de jure
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) even belittled Chen's new pledge as "nonsense." Aside from political trash talking, attention must focus on why Chen raised such a highly sensitive issue at this moment and how much a new constitution means to Taiwan.
First, just because China might be angered by Chen's statement does not mean it will automatically be an electoral plus for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). When the KMT was the ruling party, it tried to brainwash the voters into be-lieving it would be disastrous for the opposition to win power. Even on the eve of the last presidential election, then Chinese premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基) warned Taiwanese voters not to choose Chen for president. The result was a drop in Chen's support rating. Therefore, the assumption that electoral concerns are the key to Chen's new announcement lacks empirical evidence.
If it's not for the sake of the election, is Chen trying to distract public attention from the sluggish economy to ideological debate? The fact is, the economy is gradually recovering and the stock market is rebounding. The so-called "it's the economy, stupid" imprecation may have little impact on the March election. In this regard, Chen's aim is to control the election tempo by utilizing the public's desire for political reform, including reducing the number of seats in the legislature and reforming both the electoral system and five-branch system of government.
Second, why is pushing for a new constitution important? To differentiate a great leader and a good leader, the key lies in who can offer a clearer vision for the country. While attacking Chen for being unable to present a bright future for Taiwan, Lien and his colleagues in the pan-blue camp have yet to offer a workable al-ternative for the voter.
The Constitution, which was enacted in China in 1947, is unsuitable for the politics of today. Even though it was amended six times by the KMT, major questions regarding the structure of the government and other reforms were ignored. This is the main cause of government stagnation and the lack of a clear division of labor between the president and the premier. An overhaul of the Constitution requires amendments to more than half its articles. In this regard, a new constitution is constructive to the nation's constitutional development.
Pushing for a new constitution is to lay a solid foundation for Taiwan's institutionalization. Without institutionalization, politics will degenerate into endless finger-pointing and government inefficiency. This is a matter of development.
A national leader should present views with such a vision and this is what a responsible government should do. The issues of constitutional reform and writing a new constitution should not be considered merely a conspiracy to seek independence.
As former vice president, Lien should know better than anyone the need to reconstruct the political system. He may not agree with the proposal Chen offered with respect to creating a new constitution. However, he can not simply run away from such an important subject.
If Chen's plan was characterized by Lien as "nonsense," may we ask Lien: "What is your blueprint for Taiwan's future?"
Liu Kuan-teh is a political commentator based in Taipei.
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