Let us assume for a moment that when the combined presidential and legislative elections are held in January, the popular vote is divided. In other words, that the presidency and control of the legislature are held by different political parties. In such a situation, both the president and the legislature would represent the will of a majority of voters and the question would become which of the two has the power to run the country?
Some experts say that Taiwan could learn from the experience of cohabitation of power in France, where the president must draw his Cabinet from the majority party in the National Assembly. A Taiwanese president balanced by a legislature controlled by a political party other than his or her own, the experts say, would only retain control over cross-strait relations, foreign affairs and defense policy.
However, French presidents have the power to dissolve parliament. Former French president Francois Mitterrand dismissed the National Assembly and called new elections immediately after both his presidential election wins, taking advantage of his political honeymoon to obtain a parliamentary majority and garner sufficient political clout to rule the county.
However, a period of cohabitation, where the president and the prime minister came from opposing parties, resulted from the parliamentary election held at end of the five-year parliamentary term, which does not run in step with the presidential term. The opposition secured a parliamentary majority, forcing Mitterrand to accept cohabitation from 1986 to 1988.
Mitterrand suffered the same fate during his second term. Although his party won the legislative election he called after his second presidential victory in 1988, he lost that majority in the 1993 parliamentary election, setting off a second period of cohabitation, which lasted until 1995 when Jacques Chirac was elected president.
Chirac had full command of the government after his election in 1995, but after dissolving parliament in 1997, Chirac’s party lost the following election by a landslide, forcing him into a cohabitation that was to last until the end of his first term in 2002.
In other words, French voters have tended to first elect a powerful president, before showing their dissatisfaction with the president’s performance at the ballot box and choosing to balance his or her power through a period of cohabitation.
The seat of power in France is clear and undisputed. Two institutions representing the will of the public are produced at different times and so it is only natural that the more recent majority opinion should replace the older majority opinion.
The term of the French presidency was reduced to five years in a constitutional referendum in 2000.
Nonetheless, the term of the National Assembly was also modified to expire on the third Tuesday in June of the fifth year following its election, so that the legislative elections would be held after the presidential election — in recent years, the first round of the French presidential election has taken place around late April and the second round around early May, with the president-elect assuming office in mid-May. This way, the ambiguity surrounding the ruling power was eliminated.
The Central Election Committee has set up a vicious constitutional trap for the people of Taiwan. By combining the elections, it has created a situation that will inevitably place both the public and Taiwanese democracy in a quandary.