The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has proposed an amendment to its charter, revising the rule that requires the president to automatically take the post of the incumbent party's chairperson. The newly introduced amendment states that the party's chairperson could be the president or one of its three vice chairpersons, both appointed by the president and approved by the DPP Central Standing Committee.
The move is surely part of the DPP's structural rise from its opposition status to the seat of power. The significance of the amendment lies in the fact that it shows the DPP on its way to the separation of party and state: after making DPP officials drop out of the intra-party factions, the amendment also empowers the president to handpick the DPP's chairperson. Since the amendment was proposed by the Presidential Office, it was taken as part of the reforms throughout the party.
Upon hearing the news, both DPP members and non-DPP personalities saw it as a sign of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) expansion of personal power. Nonetheless, since Chen has concurrently served as president and DPP chairman, and holds both the state and party in his hand, it could be said that his power has already reached its peak. None can rival Chen. That said, where is the room for the expansion of his power?
Second, even if Chen did not hold the post of DPP chairperson, he would still be the biggest name within the party. Whether Chen takes the party post is irrelevant to the scope of his power.
Third, the rule that requires the president to handpick the chairperson actually means the president's relinquishment of the highest rank within his party. The act is more a shrinkage of authority rather than expansion of power.
The point is Chen still has the utmost power in his grip in the DPP, regardless of whether he assigns another person or serves as chairman himself. What is open to speculation is how the DPP's institutional change will impact on its party character and constitution.
Take the party-state relation in the US for example; the opposition party has no leader until the new presidential hopeful is elected in the primaries and serves as the party's chairman. On the other hand, the US president can appoint the ruling party's chairperson as the president has the power to designate and discharge administrative officers.
Chen's scope of authority resembles that of the US president: Chen can concurrently serves as the party chairman, assign the vice chairpersons, or appoint one among the vice chairpersons as its chairperson. Yet Chen's power is more limited than that of the US president's: our president can only select but not confirm the party chairman. Another approval needs to be sought from the DPP Central Standing Committee. Such an exercise of power cannot be said to be simply modeled on the US's.
The change of the rule might be related to the transfer of power within the DPP. Yet there is not a well-established link between these two. Since Chen was recently re-elected, there is still a long time before he becomes a lame duck.The point is how the amendment affects the party.
Chin Heng-wei is editor in chief of Contemporary Monthly.
TRANSLATED BY WANG HSIAO-WEN