Later this month the legislature plans to discuss whether to establish a committee to push for constitutional amendments. This is a welcome development.
After 16 years and two two-term presidents, the patchwork constitutional amendments currently in use have proven to be failures. At the moment, there are great discrepancies between power and accountability in Taiwan’s constitutional system, which is disconnected from the need for social progress. It renders the government unable to function effectively, and it makes it more difficult for it to respond to public opinion promptly and forcefully. The nation has now reached a point where it is left with no choice other than to amend the Constitution.
However, it is very difficult to pass a constitutional amendment due to the high threshold requirement. Many have been calling for amendments over the past several years, but it has always seemed hopeless. However, in recent years civic movements have generated a new wave of momentum for constitutional reform. This pressure has now even forced the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), for the first time, to show willingness to push for constitutional reform. The nation is now facing a historic opportunity for reform and this is a chance that it should seize.
Taiwan must not sit back and watch or try to delay reform based on political calculations. No matter what reform plans are proposed, they should be handled without delay.
According to the Constitution, it is the legislature that holds the power to propose and vote on constitutional amendments. Voters then need to go to the ballot box in a referendum on the amendment after a six-month period announcing the proposal to the public following its passage. Due to the requirement that at least 50 percent of all eligible voters vote in a referendum, it is extremely difficult to pass an amendment unless the referendum is held in tandem with a national election.
Although the ruling and opposition parties might still have differing opinions on the content of a constitutional amendment, the nation must avail itself of this opportunity and work to quickly build a consensus during the first half of next year so the legislature can propose and pass any amendments in a timely manner. This would be the only way possible for the government to hold a referendum on the amendments together with the 2016 presidential and legislative elections, while allowing for the required six-month period to announce the proposed amendment to the public. The opportunity could be missed if it is discussed for too long without coming to a decision. Once the driving force for constitutional reform begins to weaken, no one knows how long it will take before another historical opportunity like this comes around again.
It should be noted that although a constitutional amendment brooks no delay, its enactment can be postponed. It could be clearly stipulated that the enactment of the amendments should be delayed to 2020 or perhaps even later, so that they would not affect the presidential and legislative elections in 2016. This could be a way of avoiding meaningless speculation on politicians’ motivation to push for constitutional reform, which could interfere with rational discussions on the issue.
There should be no more avoidance, no more delay, no more calculations and no more patchwork constitutional amendments. Despite differing political stances, everyone should cooperate. The pan-blue and the pan-green camps should cooperate. So too, should the public. Starting out from the point of view of the public and with the nation’s long-term stability as first priority, the nation should push for constitutional reform beginning today.
Su Tseng-chang is a former premier and chairman of the Democratic Progressive Party.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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