Since the separation of powers, and system of checks and balances are in place precisely to limit the abuse of power, any president will find them inconvenient. Human nature being what it is, they will try to get around the system somehow.
However, they cannot be allowed to succeed, regardless of which side of the political divide they occupy. Otherwise, a president doubling as a party chair will have undue influence over members and Legislative Yuan, Control Yuan and Judicial Yuan heads who are in their party. As such, it will be easy for the president to override the system of separation of powers and checks and balances imposed on elected officials.
When Chen was acting as both president and party chairman, his powers included nominating members of the Control and the Examination yuans, judges and heads of the three main branches of government: the legislature, the Cabinet and the judiciary.
However, at the time, the DPP had a minority in the legislature, meaning that the checks and balances were in the hands of the opposition majority. As a result, Chen did not have a carte blanche to nominate whoever he wanted so there was no real threat to the system of constitutional government and consequently, no controversy.
However, ever since the political dispute between Ma and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) that occurred in September, concerns have been raised over what some say are the president’s violations of the Constitution and exploitation of his chairmanship to control KMT members.
Ma was criticized by society for his attempts to interfere with Wang’s authority as legislative speaker and seriously damaging the system of constitutional government, throwing politics into turmoil simply because of KMT infighting. Now that Ma has cemented his ability to serve in the two roles concurrently, there are serious concerns that he will abuse the power this gives him.
As the nation’s leader, the president has a responsibility in the constitutional government system, and he must be very careful about how his words and actions impact that model. Democracy in Taiwan is still in a fledgling state and very much in the experimental phase.
Given the recent spate of constitutional controversies, Taiwan will only progress if both green and blue parties — irrespective of which one is in power — look for practical ways in which to further democracy and promote the ideas of the Constitution to consolidate the republican system of constitutional governance.
If the nation regresses in this way, it will be concentrating power into an individual’s hands and ignoring the development of a constitutional system of government, no matter how grandly the reasons for such a move are stated.
Frank Hsieh is a former premier and former Democratic Progressive Party chairman.
Translated by Paul Cooper