Just as in the past, a country’s constitution is far from being the public’s main preoccupation, unless a constitutional matter makes the news for some reason. You will not hear it discussed in bars or on talk shows. The US Constitution was written behind closed doors and served as the template for the constitution that rules postwar Japan, essentially a US import. The Japanese were ashamed of it, and initiated movements to draft their own constitution that were ultimately unsuccessful, because ordinary people were simply not engaged.
The best thing that could happen would be for Taiwan to capitalize on the Sunflower movement and mandate that the legislature revise the Republic of China Constitution. Failing that, it will be up to the political parties, whose duty is to amend the Constitution on behalf of citizens in a democratic system. Traditionally, voters have supported parties based on their perceived reliability or their persuasiveness. Today, with the Internet, these parties need to be careful that they do what they promise.
Simple arithmetic shows that, even if the proposal to move the date of the presidential election to the end of April is adopted, there will only be three more months between the end of the legislative session and the presidential election. Two legislative sessions combined is only six months, which is too short to amend the Constitution.
Neither Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) nor Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) have rushed to call for a conference on Constitutional amendments, and their commitment to the idea has been brought into question.
Historically, it has been the president who has convened such a conference. Neither is president, so how will they justify their positions with regard to the Constitutional amendment process? Decisive action is always best in complicated situations, and Occam’s razor — adopting the solution with the least amount of assumptions — is the best choice of action. This principle has been around for more than 600 years and is particularly relevant in this age of information overload.
A well-written constitution is the perfect exposition of this principle. As it is a law entailing the most basic principles, everything extraneous should be left out. It will serve as the trunk, other laws the branches and the leaves. The problem with the Constitution we have today is that it is as detailed as any other law. If the Constitution can be pitched at the level it should be, it will be successful.
Germany’s Basic Law is meticulous in its detail. However, concerning matters that will change over time, such as elections of the German Bundestag, the Basic Law only says that members of parliament must “be elected in general, direct, free, equal and secret elections.” As for how that should be done in practical terms, it only says, “details shall be regulated by federal law.”
Keep it simple. An attempt to push through a full-scale amendment could end up aiming high and hitting low. The best policy would be to go with the principle of Occam’s razor.
First, details that are at the level of the Constitution, but considered flawed by many — such as regulations on the voting age and the extremely high threshold for passage of an amendment — should be corrected.
Second, any item that is not at the constitutional level should be downgraded to the level to which it belongs. The constitution should only say that “details must be regulated by law.” For example: legislative elections, the number of legislators and the size of constituencies. The details of those matters will change over time and future lawmakers should be able to decide their needs and make changes.
Christian Fan Jiang is deputy convener of the Northern Taiwan Society’s legal and political group.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
With a new White House document in May — the “Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” — the administration of US President Donald Trump has firmly set its hyper-competitive line to tackle geoeconomic and geostrategic rivalry, followed by several reinforcing speeches by Trump and other Cabinet-level officials. By identifying China as a near-equal rival, the strategy resonates well with the bipartisan consensus on China in today’s severely divided US. In the face of China’s rapidly growing aggression, the move is long overdue, yet relevant for the maintenance of the international “status quo.” The strategy seems to herald a new
To say that this year has been eventful for China and the rest of the world would be something of an understatement. First, the US-China trade dispute, already simmering for two years, reached a boiling point as Washington tightened the noose around China’s economy. Second, China unleashed the COVID-19 pandemic on the world, wreaking havoc on an unimaginable scale and turning the People’s Republic of China into a common target of international scorn. Faced with a mounting crisis at home, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) rashly decided to ratchet up military tensions with neighboring countries in a misguided attempt to divert the
Toward the end of former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) final term in office, there was much talk about his legacy. Ma himself would likely prefer history books to enshrine his achievements in reducing cross-strait tensions. He might see his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore in 2015 as the high point. However, given his statements in the past few months, he might be remembered more for contributing to the breakup of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). We are still talking about Ma and his legacy because it is inextricably tied to the so-called “1992 consensus” as the bedrock of his
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Sept. 6 finished its annual national congress. However, if Taiwan wants to have a viable opposition party in its democracy, the results were far from satisfying. The KMT again seems to be caught in a time loop, like that one in the 1993 film Groundhog Day. Yet, unlike the protagonist in that film, the KMT seems unable to learn from past experience and change for the better. Instead, it remains locked in its never-ending cycle of repeating the past. To borrow from a different artistic genre, the KMT echoes Pete Seeger’s song Where Have All