A week ahead of Saturday’s presidential election, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said that if elected, she would work toward a coalition government, and that the premier did not necessarily have to come from the pan-green camp.
This issue directly involves the outcome of the election and the subsequent distribution of power, and it has therefore stirred up debate in both the opposition and ruling parties.
Even if Tsai is elected, whether the DPP wins a legislative majority would influence the selection of a premier and policy implementation over the next four years, thus making it a matter of the utmost importance.
During his eight-year term, former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) policy achievements were limited because the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) controlled the legislature. The KMT constantly blocked the DPP government’s budgets and legislation, so that many of the president’s and Cabinet’s ideals, proposed laws and budget proposals died a slow death on the legislative floor.
If Tsai is elected, she must find a way to stop history from repeating itself.
The KMT and several media outlets have criticized Tsai’s coalition suggestion, saying it is both unconstitutional and infeasible. The current semi-presidential Constitution does not contain any clear regulations stipulating the organization of political parties or governments and the term “coalition government” does not appear in the Constitution. However, when the president’s party does not hold the legislative majority, a coalition government is one option, both in theory and in practice. There are many examples in other countries of governments either made up of a coalition of parties, and there is nothing in our Constitution that prohibits such a solution.
When Chen was elected in 2000, he said his was a “government for the whole people” and invited a former KMT defense minister, Tang Fei (唐飛), to serve as premier. However, that Tang headed up the Cabinet as a private individual, rather than as a KMT member, combined with a failure to see eye-to-eye on the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant, resulted in Tang stepping down after four months. After that, every premier was a DPP member.
Tsai’s suggestion implies that the formation of a coalition government could be preceded by party-to-party talks. Looking at ideologies, a coalition between the DPP and the Taiwan Solidarity Union would be the easiest, but the question is whether that would be enough to create a stable legislative majority. In the case of the DPP and the People First Party, there are differences in cross-strait policy that would first have to be solved. A coalition between the DPP and the KMT would involve concerns over party competition and party interests, and is not very probable. However, cooperating with a few individual KMT members and groups to build a stable legislative majority would be feasible, although party opposition would remain strong, making that, too, a difficult task.
One of the side effects of changing the law so that the presidential and legislative terms overlap completely is that when the legislative majority is comprised of a party that is not the president’s, there is no mechanism to reflect changes in public opinion, and it is unclear which should carry more weight as representative of public opinion: the president or the biggest party in the legislature. This means that the two parties will compete based on their political strength, which could easily lead to a constitutional stalemate. The KMT is talking down the possibility of a coalition government, but since no one can predict the outcome of the elections, any responsible politician would plan ahead for any eventuality. Tsai’s suggestion of a coalition government is just a first glimpse of the changes in the power structure that may be brought about by Saturday’s elections.