Wed, Jun 02, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Reforms are needed now; why wait until 2008?

By Ku Er-teh 顧爾德

Speaking on constitutional re-engineering at his inauguration, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) painted a very attractive picture. The problems that constitutional re-engineering will fix include: "whether to have a three-branch or five-branch separation of power; whether to adopt a presidential or parliamentary system of government; whether the president should be elected by a relative or an absolute majority; reform of the national legislature; the role of the National Assembly and its retainment versus abolishment; whether to suspend or abolish the provincial government; lowering the voting age; modification of compulsory military service requirements; protection of basic human rights and the rights of the disadvantaged; and, principles governing the running of the national economy, [etcetera]."

This "etcetera" gives us an infinite realm for our imagina-tions: we can imagine that constitutional re-engineering offers the opportunity of resolving all our problems; that this process will give rise to a harmonious society.

Chen clearly indicated that the process of constitutional re-

engineering would not be complete for another four years. Everyone knows that the re-engineering process will involve a struggle for power, a process of give and take. Chen has solemnly sworn that there will be no repetition of the six rounds of constitutional amendments in 10 years that took place during former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) administration. But who could guarantee that the process of Chen's reforms will be any more successful?

No one would deny that if the assurance of social and economic rights, along with the limitless extras represented by "etcetera," can be brought into being through constitutional re-engineering, then the chance of realizing Chen's "just new Taiwan" will be greatly increased. But is constitutional re-engineering the herald of major reforms, or is it the culmination of reform?

It will probably take more than simply inviting politicians and experts to form a constitutional reform committee to reflect the vast potential for social justice reflected in Chen's "etcetera." Instead the consensus on the details of constitutional re-

engineering should be built on a positive response to structural bottlenecks met during the course of the specific reforms that are now being initiated.

In his speech, Chen promised a whole range of reforms. None of his proposals are new. These reforms cannot wait to be realized by a constitutional reform committee in a single document that will not be released until 2008.

Redistribution of educational resources, equitable taxation, immigrant rights, judicial reform and the strategic response to China's "peaceful arising" are all areas in which the first Chen administration failed to deliver satisfactory results. Revelations of money politics and government corruption have also tarnished the reputation of that administration. These problems will not disappear with a second term, and accusations of vote-buying in the DPP legislative primaries underline the growing problem of corruption in the government.

These problems can't be resolved through constitutional re-engineering. If they are not resolved soon, however, the government's burden will become heavier and it will be forced into more compromises, leading to a repeat of Lee's failures.

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