Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan's Constitution at crossroads

By Ku Chung-hwa顧忠華

Taiwan seems to have entered an unprecedented "constitutional moment." All kinds of proposals for what to do with the Constitution are being promoted, ranging from amending the Constitution to re-engineering it; from merely changing constitutional procedures to changing the nature of the document.

Despite the fact there have been numerous constitutional amendments in the past, this has not exhausted the imagination of politicians as to what can be achieved with the Constitution. These politicians are constantly seeking to harness the energy of the people through various forms of activism so they can achieve their political goals.

But most ordinary Taiwanese do not see what all the drama has to do with their lives. With the exception of interested individuals or groups, most people do not necessarily understand the significance of whether Taiwan should undergo constitutional re-engineering or amendment s, whether it should adopt a presidential, semi-presidential or parliamentary system, or a host of other political issues. People might even believe this controversy reflects little more than the political maneuvering of a small number of politicians.

In fact, this phenomenon simply reflects a sense of alienation most Taiwanese have with regard to the Constitution. This is partly because Taiwan's experience with altering the Constitution is so mired in political maneuvering and grandstanding that the government was totally unable to win any kind of credibility. People hardly expect that politicians will put their cards on the table and seek to remedy political problems together through constitutional means. If the majority of the public thinks this way, any political bloc wishing to take a lead in the discussions over constitutional reform should reflect carefully over the lessons learned from past failures of the amendment process and ensure that they are not repeated.

The Taipei Society and the Taiwan Law Society held a joint press conference recently and noted that in the 1997 round of Constitutional amendments, public opinion and debate were totally rejected. The Taipei Society asked that greater effort be put into gathering public input on proposed amendments, conducting the process on the basis of the "five noes and three imperatives."

The five noes refer to no secret negotiations, no hidden trade offs, no strategic calculations, no obfuscation, and no party precedent over public opinion. The three imperatives are transparency of information, open discussion and public scrutiny. The Taipei Society emphasized that the design of the Constitution is not a private matter for political parties. Public discussion at an early stage is necessary so that people can better understand Constitutional issues and the pros and cons of various proposals. The public should be encouraged to participate. Only in this way can a consciousness of citizenship be developed and the Taiwanese people become the masters of their country. If the new constitution is to receive wider support from the public and achieve its goal of protecting human rights, it cannot be left to those within the structure of government.

The EU recently passed a draft of its constitution. Its second chapter is dedicated to the human rights that member nations must adhere to. The chapter, with 54 articles, is one of the most comprehensive expressions of human rights ever drafted.

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