Sun, May 16, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Perils of a powerful legislature

On Thursday, the Legislative Yuan's efforts to pass a constitutional amendment for congressional reforms experienced a setback due to an unexpected provision in the bill submitted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the People's First Party (PFP). The Taiwan Solidarity Union Party (TSU) refused to support the bill because the provision gives the Legislative Yuan the power to impeach the president with the votes of two-thirds of its members.

The original language of the provision in the bill had said that the president may be impeached upon petition by the congress with the Council of Grand Justices and a verdict entered by the Constitutional Court. Not every presidential form of government follows the US system in vesting such an enormous power solely in the legislative branch -- for example, in South Korea the Constitutional Court must reaffirm impeachments by Parliament within 6 months. No consensus has been reached within Taiwan as to whether the "semi-presidential" form of government should be changed into a purely "presidential" system. A decision needs to be made first in that regard before all the associated supplemental mechanisms can be incorporated into the Constitution to ensure proper checks upon and balances of government powers, including possibly limiting congressional power to impeach the president.

On the other hand, in considering whether to grant such power solely to lawmakers, one must keep in mind Taiwan's unique political culture. Against a backdrop of political polarization and strong emotions, Taiwan's Legislative Yuan -- or, more precisely, the pan-blue opposition parties -- is unlike the legislature of almost any other country in terms of how far it will go to attack the ruling party and the president, regardless of the price this country may have to pay as a whole. One simply does not have the confidence that these politicians will use this power sparingly and cautiously.

A case in point was the effort of the pan-blue opposition to recall the president during the first year of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) presidency over the ruling party's decision to halt of the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, despite the fact that the decision's constitutionality had already been submitted to the Council of Grand Justices. Instead of waiting for this council to reach a verdict, the pan-blue lawmakers started the process of recalling the president, triggering much social chaos and political unrest.

In comparison with impeachment, recalling the president is a much more difficult task, requiring a motion from one-fourth of legislators, support from two-thirds of legislators, and approval by over one-half of the electorate in a popular referendum. With much lower requirements for congressional impeachment, the chances of such power being abused by the Legislative Yuan cannot be overlooked.

South Korea's experience teaches us what a hefty price may be paid by the country as a whole if impeachment power is not used sparingly and with caution by a hot-headed opposition that enjoys a legislative majority.

In the wake of the impeachment by the South Korean parliament, that nation's stock market at one time declined by almost 5 percent and the country became the center of international attention overnight. Fortunately, the South Korean Constitutional Court acted as a safety valve and overturned the impeachment. If any kind of impeachment power is to be given to Taiwan's congress, such safety valves will surely be required.

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