Fri, Apr 17, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Semi-presidential system fits nation

By Tsai Jung-hsiang 蔡榮祥

Recent developments offer a glimpse of hope about revising the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution. New Taipei City Mayor and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Eric Chu (朱立倫) appears to favor a parliamentary system of government — an idea supported by many KMT lawmakers and even by some members of the Democratic Progressive Party.

Support for a parliamentary government is based on comparative constitutional studies showing that countries with a Cabinet system are more stable than those with a presidential system. However, this viewpoint fails to compare a parliamentary system with a semi-presidential system, and neglects the political context of specific countries.

A semi-presidential system is better suited to how the ROC Constitution operates than a parliamentary system for the following reasons.

First, a semi-presidential system precludes the instability of multiparty Cabinet systems. Some constitutional reformists have proposed lowering the electoral threshold to 3 percent. If that is coupled with a parliamentary system, it will very likely lead to the creation of a multiparty Cabinet that can better reflect the views of minorities. However, it could also lead to instability should some parties decide to withdraw from a coalition Cabinet or if a party were to create mistrust within the coalition to serve its own election prospects.

When parties withdraw from a coalition, the Cabinet loses the legislative majority and new legislative elections have to be held. The French Third and Fourth Republics are classic examples of the instability of a multiparty Cabinet system. If the semi-presidential system is wedded with a multiparty system, even if the Cabinet turnover is high, stability would not be affected because the president’s tenure is fixed.

The survival of a multiparty Cabinet in a parliamentary system is an all or nothing scenario, while in a semi-presidential system, a change of government would not necessarily lead to a regime crisis because there would be a president in place. The president can also serve as the organ to counterbalance the legislative majority by exercising the presidential right to veto bills that are passed by the legislature, but are difficult to implement. The last counterbalance to the legislative majority is the Council of Grand Justices.

Second, in a semi-presidential system, power is shared between the president and the premier, primarily because the premier is the de facto leader of the legislative majority and controls a majority of the legislative seats. A premier with the ambition to run for president will need to perform better. If their policies fail and they lose support from a majority of the public, they could be replaced by other members of parliament, perhaps even from the opposition. This could solve the current problem of the premier essentially serving as the president’s chief of staff, as well as create a balance between powers and obligations. With real power, the premier would share executive power with the president and take responsibility for policy successes and failures, thus allowing the president to exercise power in foreign affairs and national defense.

Third, a semi-presidential system works better with Taiwan’s system of direct presidential elections. With the introduction of direct presidential elections, it has become very difficult to treat the president as a ceremonial figurehead unless the elected president is unwilling to exercise presidential power.

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