Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Constitutional reform requires care

By ChenHurng-yu 陳鴻瑜

As the presidential election draws near, each camp's candidates have been putting forward sensational policies to build up their momentum. One of the most heated topics is about a new constitution.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) advocates enacting a new constitution, while the alliance of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People First Party (PFP) prefers to amend the current Constitution. Whichever method we adopt, whichever party raised the topic and for whatever reason, obviously a consensus has been reached among parties. That is, the constitution is flawed and requires revision, either partially or entirely. It certainly is a good start that deserves recognition.

However, each party is using familiar political tactics to advance their positions. They are still using traditional political wrangling and slogan-shouting. The blue camp has announced 10 principles it wants to employ when revising the Constitution, while the green camp has said only that it wants to write a new constitution. The two camps have agreed to hold a debate about amending the Constitution in mid-December. We cannot but ask: What have the two camps told people concerning this crucial issue of revising the Constitution or writing a new one?

We have amended the Constitution six times over a very short period. We exhausted the elite and paid a high price in terms of social conflict. Still, we did not reach the goal of creating a workable constitution. Although the political climate back then did not allow major revisions to the Constitution, the amendment process was way too coarse.

National Assembly representatives fought each other over some of the articles, many of which changed dramatically within a day. On the eve of the latest revisions to the Constitution, the then-KMT government held a National Development Conference where opinions were widely consulted -- a method that was not perfect but acceptable. At least, as a result of that revision, Taiwan's president is now directly elected by the people and the National Assembly is no longer a standing institution. So this time, shouldn't we also widely consult people's opinions? Or is it enough just to have debates among political figures?

Although the previous constitutional revisions were dominated by the National Assembly, it was nothing more than a legal procedure. The true debate over the revisions was held between the ruling and opposition parties. The process seemed to be totally irrelevant to the public; none of the parties explained to the people how they had arrived at their conclusions. They thought they represented the people so their opinion was public opinion. Such thinking was severely flawed.

Now that political parties agree that revising the Constitution is critical to the country and its future, they should be prudent enough not to amend the Constitution as hastily as they make changes to laws.

Therefore, each party should publish at least one white paper regarding revisions to the Constitution. In the white paper, they should detail why the Constitution should be changed and what legal theories their arguments are based on. For example, lawmakers should tell people why they want to decrease the number of seats in the Legislative Yuan, exercise single-member districts with a two-vote system, and establish a presidential system or a Cabinet system.

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