Sun, Aug 06, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Let's strengthen the Cabinet system

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

Presidents Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen have all used tough disciplinary methods to bring members of the legislature into line. Chen also used his authority within the DPP to lead the legislature before he delegated most of his powers to the premier to concentrate on his presidential duties. Though not serving as party chairman, he still governed through the party.

At this point it is necessary to further analyze the meaning of "governing through the party." This does not mean "governing through the party chairman," but instead refers to governing through party organizations and enforcing party discipline. For instance, Britain's political parties also have party chairmen, but they are merely the directors of party affairs. The one who leads the government is generally the prime minister.

Can a premier who doesn't have direct popular support govern without doing it through party organizations and enforcing party discipline?

With policymaking and personnel appointments all in the premier's hands and the political agenda being pushed through by the party apparatus, this amounts to having one person running the party, the government and even the legislature. Even though this may all take place while the president is head of state, it remains problematic from a democratic standpoint.

Under the US model, presidential and legislative powers are supposed to be separate and equal, while in Britain, the parliamentary majority makes up the Cabinet, although nominally parliament takes precedence.

In Taiwan, however, the Cabinet takes precedence over the legislature, which is a big problem.

Recent attempts to have the DPP and the government jointly discuss policy are in fact a step toward democracy. However, a lack of corresponding systemwide measures will give rise to a host of problems. The public receives the wrong impression that governing through the party is a mistake and, in the ensuing controversy, believes a move in that direction should be criticized for moving the country backward instead of forward.

Other solutions to the current political deadlock, such as having Chen step down or delegating powers to let party and government jointly discuss policy implementation, are fraught with problems.

A constitutional amendment establishing a Cabinet system would be the best approach in forging long-term stability. A Cabinet system is also what the DPP advocated at the time of its founding.

Lin Cho-shui is a Democratic Progressive Party legislator.

Translated by Eddy Chang and Marc Langer

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