Sat, Oct 05, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Debate on Constitution needed to move ahead

By Frank Hsieh 謝長廷

The storm over Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) alleged improper lobbying has set off a political civil war and revelations that the Special Investigation Division (SID) of the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office has been wire-tapping the legislature has caused a disgusting political scandal.

The public needs to be aware that the Constitution has been compromised. This is serious because it threatens the spirit of constitutional government that invests power in the citizenry. There are two issues that need to be considered carefully.

First, is the system of constitutional government broken? Has President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) violated the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution?

Second, are the prosecutors involved guilty of illegal surveillance? What is the truth behind the court orders issued for the wiretapping?

The Constitution stipulates the separation of powers to ensure people’s constitutional rights and to rein in the executive powers of the government. The system has been designed with checks and balances, and it is important to be aware of the practical intention of the laws and not just enforce them.

For example, the president and legislators are elected officials and they are there to keep each other in check. However, when state institutions, such as the legislature or the SID, fawn to the personal whims of the president, the constitutional separation of powers weakens and the supremacy of the people’s will is diminished.

Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘), who heads the SID, erroneously quoted Article 44 of the Constitution to justify his reporting the details of the ongoing case to Ma, who then used this information — obtained questionably — to go after Wang. The actions of Huang and Ma are in clear violation of the principle of the separation of powers and are unconstitutional.

Was the wiretapping illegal? Recent revelations by the SID have brought to attention that the supposed supervision of the courts over the SID’s use of communications monitoring are a mere formality. A single warrant can be used to eavesdrop on many and it covers anyone.

This gives an insight into the unimaginable degree to which abuse of power has run amok and how individuals’ freedoms of privacy — allowed for in Article 12 of the Constitution — have been trodden underfoot.

Ma has said that state surveillance of this kind is nothing to worry about if you have not broken the law or done anything wrong. Huang held aloft a court warrant to prove it was all perfectly legal. These fall short of the standards of democracy and human rights, and bring legal tenets to mind more at home in fascism, which dogmatically prosecutes to the letter of the law rather than acting in the spirit in which they were written.

Persecutions and the implementation of martial law under autocrats were all perfectly legal, but were they carried out to protect law-abiding people?

The present constitutional crisis is an opportunity to further Taiwan’s democracy and increase our understanding of the Constitution. I invited Ma to debate whether these actions have violated the Constitution. I received a reply from the Presidential Office saying: “Regarding the part about the debate on the Constitution, this is a serious matter and will require further deliberation and research.”

What is there to look into? If the public lets the government get off lightly with such abuses of power, things will only get worse. Only by making government officials who violate the Constitution pay will it be possible to bring to an end these abuses and for this power to be returned to the citizenry; the true meaning of democracy.

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