Tue, Aug 31, 2004 - Page 8 News List

The times change but politics fail to keep up

By Wang Chien-chuang 王健壯

Politics in Taiwan never seems to change. Every time we amend the Constitution, everyone rejoices, as if we'll have peace on earth ever after. But after a few years, numerous complaints are directed against the amended Constitution, and there is renewed discussion about another round of amendments. This has happened time and time again.

Former President Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) amended Taiwan's Constitution six times during his term. Each time he raised the banner of reform, each time he received the support of the ruling and opposition parties, and each time the media were in favor. But what was the result? What has happened to the 30 years of stability that he promised us?

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) said he would complete his "constitutional re-engineering" by 2006. Although the goal of this process is to firmly establish the governmental system, there is not even a hint of what that system might be. The present situation is like building windows and doors even before the architect has completed the design of the whole building. Will the windows and doors have to be made all over again?

There are two simple questions that have to be asked.

First, if the downsizing of the legislature and the new electoral system will not come into force until February 2008 (when the 7th legislature convenes) why can't it be dealt with in 2006, when other matters of constitutional amendment will be dealt with? Why did it have to be dealt with in an extraordinary session as if we were about to run out of time?

Second, the procedural rules for the impeachment of a president or vice-president are of relatively minor urgency, and unlike the downsizing of the legislature, there is no pressure via public opinion. So what's the rush?

Actually, the answer is very simple. With the year-end legislative elections approaching, no party wants to be accused of standing in the way of reform. Anyone who opposed legislative downsizing would surely be labeled a reactionary. And the writing of impeachment procedures into the Constitution was clearly a quid pro quo that had been agreed to by the parties beforehand.

Moreover, the most absurd aspect of the process of constitutional amendment was the public hearings convened by the Executive Yuan. During these hearings, the vast majority of participating academics opposed downsizing.

But the legislature went ahead and did the exact opposite of the majority opinion.

Public hearings are an important aspect of consultative democracy, and although their conclusions are not legally binding, to ignore entirely the majority opinion makes these hearings meaningless, humiliating the participating scholars, and revealing the "anti-professionalism" of the legislators from both camps.

Taiwan's political chaos and the abuse of authority are all directly or indirectly associated with the nation's fragmentary Constitution. Although this Constitution is a creation and reflection of various political forces, it must reflect political realities. But a constitution that is totally oriented to practical politics will mean that it must constantly make compromises in the face of political realities and will require constant amendment.

Politics might be compared to baseball, in which various tactics -- such as stealing bases, short hits and so on -- are used to win points. But in constitutional amendment, one can never lose sight of the overall strategy, and there are really no tactics to speak of.

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