Thu, Oct 26, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Options are plentiful for the capital's relocation

By Pai Lin 白麟

The recent proposal by more than 70 legislators that the nation's capital be moved from Taipei to southern or central Taiwan will probably be difficult to implement, since Taipei is the most affluent city in Taiwan. Nevertheless, it is still a very interesting topic to talk about.

In many nations, the capital is not the biggest commercial city. This is true of the US and Turkey.

In Turkey, Ankara, once a dusty little town, is the capital city rather than colorful and vibrant Istanbul. Istanbul was the capital until 1919, when the Turkish War of Independence broke out and Istanbul was occupied by Allied forces from Britain, France, Italy and Greece, forcing Turkish forces to set up an interim government in Ankara.

At the war's end, the Turkish government decided to keep the capital in Ankara. Because its capital was uprooted as a result of the war, it is difficult to compare Turkey's case with the proposal to move Taiwan's capital.

Another possible model for Taiwan to follow separates the capital and the seat of government in different cities. There are now nine countries in the world -- including the Netherlands and South Africa -- where this is the case.

The capital city of the Netherlands is Amsterdam, but the Hague is the seat of government and the home town of the royal family. Amsterdam is thus the country's constitutional capital.

In South Africa, Johannesburg is the biggest city, but the government is divided between three cities, with the parliament in Cape Town, the government in Tshwane and the Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein.

Although such a separation of the capital and the seat of government is rare, it could help a nation's already developed economic center steer clear of political disturbances. This is something that Taiwan could consider.

A somewhat more extreme model is Switzerland, which has no capital city. Prior to 1848, Switzerland was a federation of cantons led by a group of princes. The seat of the Swiss parliament rotated between once every two years and the country thus did not have a central federal capital.

In 1848, the Swiss voted in a national referendum to decide if all national government agencies should to be located in one city, and Zurich, Bern and Lausanne were listed as choices. Bern was eventually chosen to host the country's parliament, Zurich was given the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and Lausanne got the judiciary.

After much legislation and restructuring, Switzerland's federal government agencies are now spread over three cities. Although Bern is officially called the capital city of Switzerland, in practice the country does not have a genuine capital city.

The example of Switzerland is worth considering. Because Taiwan is so deeply divided into pan-blue and pan-green camps, it would be worth thinking about whether to emulate Switzerland's previous model. Under this scenario, the nation's capital city would move from city to city once every two years.

Another possibility would be to emulate modern Switzerland and spread government agencies over several cities, placing the presidential office in Taipei, the Cabinet in Taichung and the legislature in Kaohsiung.

According to the Constitution of the Republic of China, the nation's capital is Nanjing, and Taipei is only an interim capital. Even if we relocated the Presidential Office and the legislature to Kinmen or Matsu, the new location would still only be a temporary capital, since the "real" capital is still Nanjing.

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