Wed, May 04, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Merged polls could create dangerous vacuum

By Hu Wen-hui 胡文輝

There are no democratic saints, and ambition must be fought with ambition. Nor does the desire for power take a break, so if you want to keep a check on power, you can never take a break. The president that will be elected on Jan. 14 next year will not be inaugurated until May 20. This period of more than four months has been called a constitutional vacuum, but the real danger is that these constitutional shortcomings will invite ambition.

The presidential and the legislative elections are the events that have the most direct influence on the distribution of state power. The incumbent government has moved the presidential election forward and delayed the legislative elections to be able to combine the two without changing the presidential inauguration date — May 20 — or the date the newly elected legislators take up their positions — Feb. 1. This leaves two vacuums before the most recent expression of public opinion will be represented in the legislature and the presidential office.

The first vacuum will occur between Jan. 14 and Feb. 1, when there is a risk that the outgoing legislature and the president would gang up to abuse their power. If the incumbent, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), were not re-elected, he would still have a hold on power, together with the pan-blue-dominated legislature. If Ma refused to accept the loss and used his presidential powers to make major policy decisions, such as signing an agreement with China that would have an impact on Taiwan, and used emergency powers to push it through the legislature, the vacuum would have offered an opportunity for ambition and created a crisis.

The second vacuum will occur between Feb. 1 and May 20. If Ma were not re-elected, during this period his power — an expression of past public opinion — would be at loggerheads with the legislature — which would be representative of the most recent expression of public opinion.

Assuming both the president-elect and the majority party in the new legislature belong to the pan-green camp, if the new legislature demanded that the outgoing president relinquish his right to appoint a new Cabinet after passing a no confidence vote against the Cabinet, would the outgoing president be able to dissolve the new Cabinet and call a new election? The Constitution does not rule this out, but how could an outgoing president be allowed to dissolve the new legislature?

A second possible scenario is that the president-elect is from the pan-green camp, but the pan-blue camp retains its legislative majority. The outgoing president — Ma — could use this period to have the new legislature pass laws or agreements regulating relations with China that would be impossible for the incoming president to overturn. Another question that arises is whether the pan-blue legislature would refrain from demanding the right to form a new Cabinet.

A third possible scenario would be that the pan-green camp wins a legislative majority and that Ma is re-elected. Who should then form the new Cabinet?

These constitutional ambiguities and long power vacuum are certain to lead to power struggles.

Hu Wen-hui is a media commentator.


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