Mon, May 01, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Real reform cannot be self-serving or contrived

By Lin Hsin-yi 林欣怡

It was pleasing to see in the newspapers that a proposal for constitutional amendments with cross-party support was on the table. After a more detailed read, however, I realized that the constitutional amendment proposed by a coalition of legislators merely focused on increasing the number of legislative seats from 113 to 164.

Recently, the Constitutional Reform Alliance a private constitutional re-engineering group, unveiled the first version of its proposed constitutional amendments. Efforts made by this non-governmental organization to initiate constitutional amendments are directed at building a durable constitutional system.

The proposed amendments focus on issues closely related to people's everyday lives, and the first chapter is on human rights. It is the longest chapter, and emphasizes that the priority should be on the protection of human rights.

As regards the central government system, the alliance has proposed two versions, a presidential system and a Cabinet system, in the hope that a decision will be made after thorough debate. Until we come to a conclusion on this issue, the alliance will do its best to come up with the best version of each system to inform discussion.

Although the alliance has not specified an exact number of legislative seats in the proposed amendment, we plan to make a suggestion in our next version. That suggestion will be the most appropriate number of seats based on overall systemic considerations, rather than considering the possibility of some legislators losing their jobs.

Another focal point is the procedure for amending the Constitution. Other than a reasonable threshold for proposing amendments, we should also seek to create more channels for proposals. If the right to propose constitutional amendments remains the privilege of a handful of legislators, we will continue to face the same kind of inertia and self-serving behavior on constitutional change we have seen in the legislature recently, and there will be no avenue for the general public to raise their concerns.

After looking at the pros and cons regarding the procedure for proposing constitutional amendments, we suggest that the general public should also have the right to forward proposals. The legislature should not have a monopoly on this power. If more than 50 percent of votes cast in a referendum approve of the constitutional amendment, the Constitution should be amended accordingly.

The alliance respects the legislators' right to propose constitutional amendments. Regardless of the type of amendment that is being proposed, it should not be rashly submitted. Rather, it should be thoroughly debated and reviewed. If the amendment currently being proposed by the legislative coalition is only concerned with the number of seats in the legislature rather than the expectations of the general public, then it must immediately be condemned.

If legislators really do propose constitutional amendments that ignore public opinion and amendments proposed by non-governmental organizations, the fact that the general public do not have the right to propose such amendments means that legislators can do as they please and force their own self-serving amendments through.

In next year's legislative elections, however, the general public will pass its verdict on such behavior. At that time, we will initiate a campaign aimed at exposing those candidates who are out to bend the Constitution in their favor, and the legislators supporting the current legislative amendment proposal provides a good list of targets for that campaign.

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