Thu, May 16, 2019 - Page 8 News List


Systems of governance

According to newspaper reports, former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said at a seminar on May 4 that Taiwan’s existing semi-presidential system makes it hard to distinguish between the powers and duties of the president and the premier.

Therefore, he suggested that Taiwan could consider merging the Executive Yuan with the Presidential Office, with the president serving concurrently as premier.

He said that the president could report to the Legislative Yuan, so that it could exercise oversight over the head of state.

This would not be permissible under the Constitution, and could only work if it were heavily amended.

Constitutional Interpretation No. 419 by the Council of Grand Justices takes into consideration existing constitutional provisions, such as that the premier is nominated by the president and the president’s approval is required before the premier can resubmit to the Legislative Yuan a resolution that has already been enacted by the legislature.

The interpretation points out that these provisions mean that the president and premier exercise checks and balances over one another, and it states that the two offices can therefore not be occupied by the same person.

So, to be precise, Ma’s suggestion was surely not that the president should also serve as premier, but rather to amend the Constitution in such a way as to establish a presidential system under which the president would be accountable to the legislature.

However, it must be understood that the essence of a presidential system is that the executive arm of government has precedence. Since the president is elected by citizens, he or she answers solely to the public and does not need to answer to the legislature at all, and the legislature cannot make the president leave office.

Furthermore, under the system by which laws passed by the Legislative Yuan can be resubmitted to it for reconsideration, the president only needs to command a minority of at least one-third of seats in the legislature to veto laws passed by it. It is therefore uncertain what Ma meant when he talked about being accountable to the legislature.

If being accountable simply means attending the legislature, while the legislature would have no other means of counteracting the president, that would be a typical presidential system. In that case, where exactly is the accountability?

On the other hand, if accountability means that, as well as attending the legislature, the legislature would have other means by which it could boycott the president, such as by raising the threshold for resubmission or weakening the president’s power to veto laws, that would depart from the presidential system’s essence of the executive branch having precedence. That would risk simply creating another system of constitutional government that would be neither fish nor fowl.

It is hard to see how that would help Taiwan resolve any of its political difficulties.

Chen Ho-yuan


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