Wed, Apr 27, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Changing dates mere manipulation

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水

Public opinion surveys indeed show that there is greater support for combining next year’s presidential and legislative elections than there is opposition to the idea. Many constitutional experts, however, oppose such a change. So should our system of government be decided by scholarly concerns for the spirit of the Constitution, or by public opinion mobilized by political parties?

We encountered the same situation once before, in 2004. At that time, academics in the legal and political fields were overwhelmingly opposed to halving the number of legislators, but public opinion mobilized by political parties moved toward supporting the change. The political parties then turned around and used public opinion as their reason for pushing through a constitutional amendment. This kind of decisionmaking, where political parties run the country through populism incited by themselves, is a source of repeated chaos.

It is a fact that elections are too frequent in Taiwan. Some of them should be combined, while others should not.

In the case of local elections, Taiwan used to have a smattering of special municipality elections, county elections, city elections, township elections and borough elections. These elections were all spread over different dates because at the time, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was governed by political concerns alone and did not pay much attention to issues such as a reasonable and well-planned system.

When the KMT lost Taipei City to the independent Henry Kao (高玉樹) twice in the 1960s, the party “elevated” Taipei to the status of special municipality and turned the mayorship into an appointed position, disregarding the fact that this would create a huge gap between city and countryside. When elections were reintroduced during the democratization process in the 1990s, the election date was not synchronized with the county elections.

It made sense to combine local elections, which are now held on fewer occasions. However, following the spirit of the Constitution, the legislative and presidential elections should not be combined.

The Constitution stipulates that the president must be inaugurated on May 20 and that the legislative session should begin in February. So long as the legislature is not dissolved and re-elected, thus setting a new precedent, the legislature convenes on Feb. 1. However, there are more than three months between the two dates, which means that if the two elections are combined, we will have a lame duck government for four months. However, Central Election Commission (CEC) Chairwoman Chang Po-ya (張博雅) says that it doesn’t matter if this period is one, two or four months.

Such absurd statements show a total unawareness that times have changed.

The Republic of China Constitution was written more than 60 years ago. At that time, it covered China, a large, slow-moving agricultural society. It stipulates that the presidential election must be held 90 days before the end of the current term and that if both the president and the vice president are absent, the premier can only act in their place for three months. However, today we have passed into the postindustrial world and the current trend is to shrink the “lame duck” period as much as possible.

The time lapse between a parliamentary election and the inauguration of the new leader is but a week in most parliamentary democracies.

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