Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Time to cut party from government

By Chiou Chwei-liang 邱垂亮

The transformation from rule by man to the rule of law and institutionalism lies at the heart of the democratization process, which is implemented by building a peaceful, just and competitive institutional arrangement through elections. These institutions select the national leader and handle national political affairs. The building of such an institutional arrangement requires coordination with various institutions in civil society, such as the freedoms of thought, expression and the press, interest and lobbying groups, a market economy and so on.

The most important institution, which functions as an intermediary between society and politics, is, without a doubt, a political system with two or more effectively independent and mutually counterbalancing political parties. In a democracy, this party system is intimately related to the government's executive, legislative and judicial system, although democratic principles say that the parties and the government should be clearly separated. The two systems fill different functions, and the separation of party and government is the normal state in a democracy.

There are "soft" and "hard" political parties. Most democratic countries, whether they have a presidential, semi-presidential or parliamentary system, have soft political parties. This means that parties are "election machines," that the president or prime minister does not double as chairman of his party (although he is perceived as its leader), and that he does not manage party affairs. Very few democratic countries have a system of hard political parties.

Before the presidential election in 2000, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) made a solemn pledge that he would not let the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) direct government affairs as the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had done. After his election, however, he has led a minority government, and opposition between party and Cabinet has been common.

To assure coordination between the Presidential Office, the Cabinet and the party, he decided two years later to double as party chairman in order to guarantee that "party and government walked in step with each other." He thus shouldered the repsonsibility of coordinating contacts between DPP factions, between the Cabinet and the legislature, and between DPP and the Cabinet. This made coordination of internal party affairs much more efficient, and dissenting voices within the party became fewer. Another result was that Chen himself often became the target of criticism, whether as part of internal party struggles or inter-party struggles, often placing him at the center of conflict.

Two years ago, I was fiercely opposed to Chen's doubling as president and party chairman based on fundamental democratic principles. Today, the party is not directing government affairs, and Chen has succeeded in being re-elected, but I am still opposed to synchronizing party and government, and to Chen's doubling as DPP party chairman.

I understand that Chen has asked each DPP faction to propose an amendement to the party charter changing the regulation stipulating that the president shall double as party chairman by adding "or the president shall designate a deputy party chairman to act as party chairman." If passed by the DPP's National Congress in July, I hope that Chen will set a precedent by stepping down as party chairman. According to DPP party regulations, Chen can appoint three deputy chairmen, but as a result of past intra-party conflict over this regulation, he has never used that power. If, however, the amendment is passed, he is certain to do so as part of planning for the future.

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