Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Let's strengthen the Cabinet system

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

Regardless of whether the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wants to keep President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in place to avoid succession by Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) or whether it wants to dump him by handing administrative and personnel affairs to the party's Central Standing Committee, the party has become the target of severe criticism.

The DPP finds itself in a dilemma, and some even say that dividing power between the government and the party is tantamount to a return to the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) era when that party led the government.

If Taiwan were to adopt a Cabinet system, all these problems would be solved in one fell swoop. Under such a system, the premier's party would immediately name a successor once the premier loses his ability to lead.

Take the recent example involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Pressure from within his party forced him to promise an early resignation next year instead of leading the party for the remainder of his term. His successor will be Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown,considered the party's strongest and most suitable candidate.

Today, the DPP opposes Lu's succession for several reasons. She has fallen short of party expectations and is not strong enough, so many doubt that she would be capable of running the government were she to replace Chen. Her behavior is also utterly unpredictable.

During her short time as acting chairwoman of the party, she managed to turn it upside-down. Furthermore, at a time when party members were wearing forlorn expressions over the corruption scandals surrounding the first family, she seemed to be the only one who actively attended events with a happy face.

Lu is not strong enough to rule. She was chosen as Chen's running mate simply because it was thought she would complement Chen, and his campaign promoted "rule by both sexes." She was not chosen on the assumption that Chen would be unable to finish his term.

If the ticket featuring then KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) won the 2004 presidential election, and Lien had turned out to be a disastrous president, the KMT would have had to hand power to the PFP if Lien resigned. Under these circumstances, the KMT's determination to consolidate its leadership would probably have been stronger than that of the DPP.

The typical view is that having a party lead the government is wrong, that this is exactly what happens in a presidential system and not in a Cabinet system.

But in the latter, the Cabinet must have the support of the legislative majority. The majority is maintained by the members of the legislature, who follow party discipline. The system would be unable to operate if the government were not led by the party. For example, during the French cohabitation between right and left, the prime minister's party also led the government.

As for a presidential system, the executive is headed by the president, who is virtually unconnected to his party. The legislature, however, maintains a strict separation of powers, and it is almost impossible for the president to rely on party discipline to control legislators from his party. Therefore, it is impossible to have the party lead the government.

However, Taiwan's situation is complex. On the one hand, the government is obviously led by the president, but there is also a premier stuck between the president and his ministers, which obstructs smooth execution of leadership.

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