The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yesterday submitted a hurried request for a review of the Law on the National Assembly's Exercise of Power (國家職權行使法), which was passed last Friday. The DPP requested that the threshold for approving constitutional amendments be lowered from three-quarters to a simple majority, and that invalid ballots be excluded from the total number of votes. It is not surprising that the request was opposed by every party except the DPP and defeated in a vote later yesterday.
There have been media reports that the main reason why the DPP suddenly changed its mind is that highly respected former DPP chairman Lin I-hsiung (林義雄) directed heavy criticism at President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), saying that unless Chen demands that the DPP submit a review request, Lin will start a movement demanding a presidential recall. Apparently this made Chen focus on how flawed the law was, particularly its requirement of a three-quarters threshold, and the request -- originally proposed by the People First Party's (PFP) legislative caucus -- that invalid votes be counted in the total vote. These regulations greatly increase the risk that the constitutional amendments approved by the legislature will not be ratified.
Lin, as well as others who are concerned about the constitutional amendments, believe that things are not as simple as they seem and that there may be trickery afoot. There are indications that the establishment of the dangerous precedent of a three-quarters threshold is not the result of negligence, but rather of behind-the-scenes manipulation by political figures seeking to impede the passage of the constitutional amendments. Some in the legislature do not want to see the number of seats halved. And the high threshold could be helpful to those who do not wish to see the right of referendum written into the Constitution.
The Constitution requires only a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly to impeach the president. With regard to the alteration of national territory, it only requires the attendance of two-thirds of the members of the assembly and a three-quarters majority of those attending. In this case, based on democratic principles and constitutional precedents from western countries, the threshold for ratification of constitutional amendments should be a simple majority. There is no need for the high three-quarters threshold, for this would make it possible for a minority of just over 25 percent to block a bill favored by a clear majority -- a situation which is unreasonable.
The May 14 elections gave 249 seats to parties that support constitutional reform and 51 to parties that oppose it. Therefore, of 300 total seats, only 75 votes or abstentions would be required to block constitutional reform. In other words, opponents of amendment only need to garner 24 more votes or abstentions to achieve their aim. If this happened, critical reforms -- such as halving the number of legislative seats, the introduction of a "single member district, two vote" system, and incorporating the right of referendum into the Constitution -- will not be realized. This will further delay the day when the vicious cross-party strife of Taiwanese politics can be brought under control.
The National Assembly representatives selected in the May 14 elections are closely associated with party legislators, so a crucial factor will be whether any of the 127 DPP and 117 KMT representatives break party discipline and oppose the amendments or abstain from voting. If enough do, the constitutional amendments will be rejected. Lin, who has seen the worst that Taiwan's political scene has to offer, therefore asked the DPP to call for a review of the Law on the National Assembly's Exercise of Power. Although this action was unsuccessful, it will put pressure on the National Assembly, letting it know that Taiwan's voters are watching them. Those politicians and parties who renege on their promises will suffer retribution in future elections.