Tue, Mar 16, 2004 - Page 8 News List

113: a lucky number, or is there a point to it?

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

The signature campaign supporting the reduction of the number of legislative seats by half has gained the support of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Formosa Plastics Group chairman Wang Yung-ching (王永慶) and more than 30,000 other signatories. They demand that the legislature's Constitutional Amendment Committee pass a constitutional amendment allowing the reduction prior to Saturday's election.

It would be interesting to know why this move was immediately supported by government, business and community figures. Is it unquestionably positive?

When elected, Chen said he was going to amend the constitution and reform the legislature. In its first year in power, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government was constantly restricted in the legislature by the opposition, so during the legislative elections in 2001, most DPP candidates advocated halving legislative seats.

Their opinion won the approval of voters because they saw a legislature running on empty, abandoned by a bunch of highly paid legislators mincing words day in, day out instead

of passing legislation. This was

at a time when Taiwan had just experienced the 921 earthquake and the economy was waning. Life was hard. Taxpayers felt sick at the sight of a lawmaker and wondered why they should continue feeding them.

This interparty struggle rendered the legislature impotent and created public support to halve the number of legislative seats. For two years, no one has dared say anything different.

Ignored by most people, some political scientists have stressed that without electoral reform, such a move would not address the fundamental problem.

Suppose the number of legislative seats is reduced to 113. Deducting legislators-at-large (each camp currently advocates about 20) leaves about 90 seats for legislators representing an electoral district. With the current structural makeup of the legislature, the ruling or the opposition parties would receive at most 60 percent of the seats.

Who should be disqualified? Although the intra-party nomination process is becoming more democratic, individual strength is still a guarantee for nomination. Solid local factional support and national celebrity facilitate nomination. The new plan would gradually reduce the number of legislators but also be more beneficial to politicians with strong local support.

The problem facing parties after halving the number of seats would be fierce struggles between incumbents within their own parties. To calm these internecine struggles, parties might nominate incumbents to legislator-at-large seats. This would exclude representatives of weaker social groups from becoming legislators at large. It would also mean that it would become more difficult for new participants to run.

If the bill is passed, it would restructure the relationship of parties and politicians with voters and civic groups. Incumbent district representatives would feel that local support built by themselves was used to support legislator-at-large candidates, while social resources obtained by parties wouldn't be fully transferred to politicians.

If these issues are not resolved, these 80-some legislators could become another generation of life-long legislators and faction heads from the central to the local government level. This would be a solid

and stable legislature, just like Japan's faction-ruled legislature, but not necessarily a progressive legislature.

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