Wed, Nov 12, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Chen drafts timetable on constitution

REFORM The president said the only way to fix the problems with the old constitution was to write a new one and put it to the public in a referendum

By Chang Yun-Ping  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday hardened his stance on the nation's constitution, saying a rewrite of the existing one would be insufficient to resolve its problems and setting a date for a referendum on a new version he wants written.

Two months after he first floated the idea of a new constitution at the 17th anniversary of his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Chen made clear that he regarded amending the current Constitution, which has already undergone six sets of amendments, as a waste of time and that a new constitution should be created and put before the public in a referendum on Dec. 10, 2006, which is also International Human Rights Day.

Chen made the statements yesterday while receiving a group of American academics invited to participate in today's international conference on Democracy, Nationalism and Security in the Asia Pacific jointly sponsored by Taiwan's Institute for National Policy Research and The Brookings Institution in the US.

The American academics attending yesterday's reception at the Presidential Office included John Thornton, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Brookings Institution; Richard Bush, former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan; Strobe Talbott, former US deputy secretary of state; and James Steinberg, former deputy national security adviser.

Chen told his visitors that the current Constitution, which was promulgated in 1946 and put into effect in 1947, does not suit the needs of the 23 million Taiwanese people.

"Almost two-thirds of the articles of the ROC Constitution need to be amended, including the complete rewriting of nearly half of these articles. Such an undertaking is beyond the range of simply rewriting, it requires a complete construction of a new constitution," he said.

"The previous six sets of constitutional amendments were fragmentary and many problems remained unresolved. The construction of the new constitution is aimed to thoroughly solve the remaining problems once and for all, as the Taiwanese people will have to decide the content of the new constitution through a referendum in 2006," Chen said.

He said that if the new constitution is approved in December 2006, it would be enacted on May 20, 2008, the inauguration day for the winner of that year's presidential election.

Chen said that his characterization of Taiwan and China being "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait, the promotion of national referendums and the new constitution were all part of the nation's democratization process and would not contradict the "five noes" pledge he made in his inauguration speech in 2000. Therefore, he said, these issues could not be regarded as part of the dispute over Taiwan's independence or unification with China.

The president also said that as the US is one of Taiwan's most important allies, his promotion of these democratic ideals and constitutional reforms would not affect or undermine US interests.

Taiwan's top representative to the US, Chen Chien-jen (程建人), said yesterday that Taiwan's bid to hold a national referendum was a normal process for people to express their opinions in a democratic society, and the US was supportive of this cause.

He added that although the US government was concerned about referendums to decide Taiwan's independence or unification, Chen's "five noes" promise was accepted by the US government.

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