At the 80th birthday dinner for former presidential adviser Koo Kwang-ming (
In response to Chen's remarks, Koo explained that a "Second Republic" means freezing the Constitution of the Republic of China (ROC) and establishing a new constitution written by the Taiwanese. In the future, if the government wants to revive the Constitution, it can easily do so.
On Oct. 17, media reports quoted a source with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) as saying that the preamble of a "Second Republic" constitution would mean freezing the general principles contained in the current Constitution, avoid the controversial parts touching on Taiwan's sovereignty, explain the current national situation and detail the conditions under which the old Constitution could be restored.
The general principles of the current Constitution deal with national polity, sovereignty, the people and citizenry, territorial integrity and the national flag. It is very difficult to imagine how freezing such vital principles could solve the dispute over Taiwan's sovereignty. Moreover, if these principles were suspended but no new provisions are provided, that would be like voluntarily canceling the constitutional provisions defining Taiwan's national status and tantamount to a downright abolition of Taiwan's sovereignty.
In my opinion, instead of freezing the general principles of the Constitution, it would be much better to simply put aside or ignore the dispute over sovereignty and maintain the existing articles. As long as the Nationality Act (
According to former president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) discourse on a "Second Republic," the May 1991 amendments to the Constitution, which limited its scope to the areas that were free prior to unification while also recognizing the People's Republic of China's (PRC) as the governing power over China, meant that Taiwan already had entered a "Second Republic" and cross-strait relations were defined as special state-to-state relations. The current Constitution and its additional articles are therefore in effect a "Second Republic" constitution for the ROC. If we can guarantee that the current Constitution only refers to the territories actually controlled by the government of Taiwan, no legal dispute over sovereignty would arise with China even if the articles dealing with the ROC's territory were left untouched.
Nonetheless, the idea of a "Second Republic" constitution is worth some thought. Given the form and content of the current Constitution, trying to amend it by focusing on freezing or regulating only these 12 additional articles is not the right approach.
Similar to other countries, the second phase of the constitutional reform should allow for more freedom to amend the main text of the Constitution to make it more understandable. This would also mean that constitutional discussions would no longer be restricted by the structure of the text, and it would also make it easier for the general public to read the Constitution, thus reinforcing constitutional knowledge.
Once the choice has been made to revise the main text, the phrase "prior to unification" in the preamble to the additional articles or the phrase "free areas" in the articles could be eliminated, since a "Second Republic" constitution would no longer be restricted to a particular geographic location or time.
Proposing a "Second Republic" would also represent a breakthrough in terms of the current problems surrounding constitutional reform procedures. As the seventh amendment to the Constitution last year has shown, Taiwan's constitutional reform procedure is probably the most complicated in the world.
According to Article 12 of the additional articles, a constitutional amendment requires that it be proposed by a quarter of all legislators, that three-quarters of all legislators be present at the vote, and that three-quarters of those present vote for the amendment's passage. Six months after the amendment has been passed, it must be put to a referendum where half of the electorate -- not half of those actually voting -- must approve the proposal.
This article makes a constitutional amendment a formidable challenge. The nation's transition to democracy is an ongoing process and is likely to require further constitutional amendments, but the high threshold allows a minority to block every single proposed constitutional amendment. If the ruling and opposition parties were to reach a consensus one day, a "Second Republic" could solve this problem in the event that a constitutional amendment fails to pass in a referendum.
Looking at the "Second Republic" proposal from the perspectives of content and procedure deserves serious attention. Given the political turmoil surrounding Chen lately, his sincerity and honesty are now doubted. No matter how great a constitutional reform Chen proposes, it is unlikely to be accepted by the public. Chen should keep silent on the issue and listen to the voices of academics and the general public, rather than offering his thoughts or trying to direct these developments.
Tseng Chien-yuan is an assistant professor in the Department of Public Administration at Chung Hua University.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti
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