Thu, Jun 15, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Councilors should show respect to president

By Liu Wen-shi 劉文仕

The Taipei City Council passed a motion on June 7 to remove President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) portrait from the council's chambers. Similar incidents have occurred in Yunlin and Taichung counties. Whether the local councils have the right to pass such a motion is a question that necessarily entails a discussion of the Ministry of the Interior's Guidelines Governing the Display of the National Flag, Images of Sun Yat-sen and Portraits of the President (國旗國父遺像及元首玉照懸掛要點).

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has stated that this is an administrative rule and that local government agencies are not bound by such guidelines. However, this position is by no means watertight.

The question of whether administrative regulations issued by the central government are legally binding on local self-ruled agencies depends on the kind of issue being regulated. If the issue falls under self-rule regulations or is part of the agency's internal management, then that administrative regulation is not binding. In the case of delegated authority, however, the academic interpretation is that administrative regulations are a matter of supervision, and that such administrative regulations are therefore also binding at the local level.

The president is the nation's leader and represents the country, as clearly stated in Article 35 of the Constitution. To respect the president is to respect the nation as represented by its highest office, and not the individual. How government agencies display the portrait of the nation's leader is a matter of respect for the country, and the country should have in place regulations that ensure its unity and cohesion.

Article 111 of the Constitution states that the central government's authority shall be carried out by all levels of government, which clearly makes it a matter of delegated authority. That means that city councils in special municipalities are also bound by such regulations, and Article 43 of the Local Government Act (地方制度法) states that any motion of a local government body like the Taipei City Council that conflicts with central government regulations renders that motion null and void.

The problem is that even though the above guidelines are applicable in this case, there is no way to enforce them. If the council is determined not to display the president's portrait in violation of the guidelines, what can be done? The law requires only a minimum of morality, and there is no hope of using the law to induce the people to love their nation.

The Act Governing the Punishment of Police Offenses (違警罰法), which was rescinded in 1991, stated that a person who fails to salute the president or display the flag at public assemblies is subject to a fine of up to NT$1,000. The act was often derogatively referred to as the Patriotism Enforcement Provisions. In the 1990s, the Cabinet submitted a draft of the Act of the Maintenance of Social Order (社會秩序維護法草案) to the legislature. However, the legislature nixed the draft after referring to a 1943 US Supreme Court case, stating that a sense of patriotism should not be forced on the public. So there are no laws in place to exact punishment for related offenses.

But political wrangling should have its limits. The right to express political opinions is a separate issue from the need to follow regulations. A council speaker's decision on whether or not to implement an invalid motion is a matter of political character. It is also an expression of respect for the Constitution and maintaining order. We hope that concerned leaders will proceed carefully and thoughtfully.

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