Tue, Jun 14, 2005 - Page 8 News List

It's time for the people to decide on reforms

By Trong Chai 蔡同榮

The National Assembly has ratified the constitutional amendments that were passed by the legislature last August, completing the first phase of President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) plans for constitutional reform. Chen has said the second phase should now begin. He stressed the urgency of establishing a constitutional reform committee made up of people from a wide spectrum to create a broad consensus and a sense of national unity.

A further round of constitutional reform is necessary, because changing the Constitution has thus far involved changes and additions meant to resolve problems with unreasonable or inadequate terms in the original text. The original intent of the Constitution has long been lost, and what we have left appears somewhat cobbled together. The nation must be galvanized into working toward this second phase of reform, to seize this opportunity to establish a constitution that is more fitting for Taiwan.

If the government encounters any obstruction from the pan-blue camp, it should consider holding a public referendum, to decide once and for all whether the people just want more amendments, or a new constitution.

The Philippines' constitution was created following a referendum in March 1987; constitutional reform was conducted in Panama after a referendum in November 1992 and Albania wrote a new constitution after consulting the public in November 1994. Switzerland has held over 300 plebiscites since 1867, including ones on drawing up a constitution and constitutional reform. There are other nations where any constitutional amendments have to be approved in a referendum before they can be passed. In France, the public is consulted on any constitutional amendment which fails to gain the approval of a given percentage of lawmakers.

Whether you look at it in terms of relevance, practicality or even in terms of Taiwan's relationship with China, the Constitution is in dire need of either reform or of being completely rewritten.

Even the authorities in China are of the opinion that the Constitution has problems. It is clear that neither the so-called May 5 (1936) draft constitution nor the present version are adequate if Taiwan were to engage in talks with Beijing on an equal footing.

The Republic of China (ROC) Constitution was formalized in 1946. With the establishment of the People's Republic of China, the ROC Constitution lost its relevance there: the territory, government, National Assembly and population were no longer the same as when the Constitution was written, and one wonders what exactly it purports to represent. This being the case, it is unlikely to be very useful when it comes to negotiating.

Constitutions should be updated as circumstances change. We have already entered the age of New Taiwanese, in which there is no distinction between people based on whether one's family members are long-term residents, or whether they came over with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) after the war. The question now is whether one supports unification or independence, or how one recognizes Taiwan's status. Consequently, it is now time to draw up a new Taiwanese version of the Constitution.

The creation of a new constitution needn't be an issue of unification or independence. If the pan-blues choose to obstruct the process, we should seek to resolve the question of national identity, based on the principle that "changes to Taiwan's status quo requires the agreement of the people." The question of whether constitutional reform should continue must be put to a referendum.

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