Tue, May 02, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Cabinet system has obvious benefits

By Max Sun 孫善豪

According to media reports, many legislators from the pan-blue and pan-green camps hope to increase the number of legislative seats from 113 to 164 and change the central government system into a Cabinet system. Rumor has it that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is on his guard against KMT legislators who want to amend the Constitution again, and may expel those who sign the proposal from the party. It is also said that the number of lawmakers who support the proposal exceeds the number required for pushing through a constitutional amendment.

A few issues require clarification. First is the number of lawmakers. The number 113, arrived at by the rough-hewn idea of halving the 225 seats valid up until and including the sitting legislature, is indeed problematic. This does not, however, mean that 164 is the perfect number.

If lawmakers are suggesting an increase in the number of seats simply because it will be more difficult for them to be elected under the new single-member district system, then the proposal only serves to highlight the legitimacy of having a smaller legislature.

The number of lawmakers should be decided in accordance with two factors: how many voters each lawmaker should represent, and how many seats the legislature should have. For a country of 23 million people, a legislature with more than 1,000 seats would be sufficiently representative, but it might be inefficient. A legislature with only 50 seats may be efficient, but it would obviously not be sufficiently representative. So exactly how many seats offer the best representation and efficiency?

There is another problem with the new single-member district, two-vote system which will be implemented starting with next year's legislative elections: What should the ratio be between directly-elected legislators and legislators-at-large? One-to-one, two-to-one or three-to-one? Fewer legislators-at-large mean less party control and reduced unity, but increased individual and local influence. More legislators-at-large will have the opposite effect.

In other words, if legislators-at-large are weak in the legislature, then the ideal of a "unified Taiwan" is unlikely to be realized, as the legislature will be kidnapped by local and individual interests. On the contrary, if the number of legislators-at-large matches that of regional legislators, or if, as in Germany, for example, directly elected legislators can also be listed as candidates on the list for legislators-at-large and thus win a seat as a legislator-at-large even if they lose the direct election, then the arrogance of directly elected legislators -- "I am backed by so many voters, so what do you want?" -- might be kept in check.

As for a Cabinet system, it would integrate the legislative and executive powers. If the lawmakers from both camps propose the adoption of this system to both expand their legislative power and get their hands on executive power, it will only further strengthen the public's belief that politics is a dark and dirty undertaking.

A Cabinet system is not like this. The integration of legislative and administrative powers does not mean that lawmakers can serve concurrently as premier, minister or political vice minister. Rather, it means that key officials should be lawmakers. In other words, untalented, unprofessional and incompetent lawmakers should not serve in key posts, but talented and professional politicians capable of taking on important posts should serve as lawmakers.

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