Sun, Jun 11, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Chen's move respects Constitution

By HsuYu-wei 許有為

On May 31, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) announced during a meeting with high-ranking government officials and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) heavyweights that he will concentrate solely on performing those presidential duties stipulated by the Constitution and delegate all other government and party duties.

I would like to make it clear that under Taiwan's constitutional system, the premier's democratic legitimacy comes from the president. There is thus no question of a president violating the Constitution by formulating the overall direction of national policy or guiding government operations.

Following the constitutional amendments in 1997, Taiwan's constitutional system became a semi-presidential system centered on the president. According to the Constitution, the president is directly elected by the people and therefore enjoys complete democratic legitimacy.

In addition, the president unilaterally appoints the premier, without the need for the legislature's consent. The premier must therefore retain the president's trust and answer to both the president and the legislature.

The premier derives his or her legitimacy from public opinion as embodied in the president, and must implement the president's political views and the overall direction of national policy.

Following the constitutional amendments of 1997, every candidate in presidential elections is given the opportunity to express their political views on foreign policy, education, defense, social and welfare policy -- all of which fall within the Cabinet's remit.

Every presidential candidate, and their supporters, have considered this state of affairs to be appropriate. Noone has accused them of preparing to violate the Constitution or abuse their power if elected. Chen's proposals for the nation's overall policy direction, and his leadership of the country for the past six years, in no way violates the Constitution.

Presidential adjustments to the division of labor between the president and premier are legitimate exercises of presidential power and do not constitute violations of the Constitution, as long as such adjustments do not infringe on either the president's or the premier's powers as specifically stated in the Constitution.

Comparative constitutional studies show that in countries that have adopted a semi-presidential system, the division of labor between the president and premier always sets legitimate limits on presidential power.

A look at the practical workings of the constitutional system of the French Fifth Republic unambiguously shows that all adjustments to the power-sharing between president and premier are legitimate exercises of presidential power based on the democratic legitimacy that derives from direct popular elections.

Even during the cohabitation governments, when the president and premier came from different parties, the president retained his powers in the originally specified areas.

A closer look at the practical workings of France's Constitution shows that there have been many different ways of dividing power between the president and the premier. One example is the authority assumed by president Charles de Gaulle over premier Michel Debre when the president directed national policies after the 1962 elections.

A contrasting example is the extra authority bestowed upon to the premier during the presidency of Georges Pompidou, who let premier Pierre Messmer make most policy decisions. A third example is the cooperation and distribution of powers between president Valery Giscard d'Estaing and premier Jacques Chirac.

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