Chen proposes change of Constitution

RED HERRING? :Beset by problems the president sought yesterday to drag up an old theme in an effort to gain support, while opposition parties scorned his suggestions

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH STAFF WRITER AND CNA

Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 1

Seeking to draw attention away from the protests seeking his ouster, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday went on the offensive and said that the Constitution needed to be amended or changed altogether.

The topic of constitutional re-engineering has been a consistent, controversial theme during Chen's second term. Opposition parties are against any radical changes in the Constitution, and China and the US have in the past warned of what they view as the possible destabilizing effects of any constitutional change.

unlikely

Any constitutional amendment requires the approval of two-thirds of the legislature, and the opposition parties have refused to budge on Chen's proposed additional constitutional re-engineering. It is extremely unlikely, therefore, that Chen will be able to make any of the changes he recommended

Addressing a forum organized by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to discuss constitutional reform in Taipei yesterday morning, Chen said that if the country wants to change its governmental system from a semi-presidential system, it has to fully adopt a parliamentary or a presidential system.

"No matter which government system we are going to adopt, it has to be clear and specific, unlike the one we have now," he said. "We can no longer pick one system that is only beneficial to one party, randomly piece it together and exchange it for one party's political interests."

Chen also urged the public to consider whether it was time to change the territorial definitions of Taiwan.

"Some people say that the territorial boundaries must cover Outer Mongolia and mainland China; some have also argued that they must cover Europe, Asia and Africa," he said. "The People's Republic of Mongolia and People's Republic of China both have UN seats; they are two different countries that do not have any affiliation with Taiwan."

HISTORY

The Constitution of the Republic of China, which was enacted in 1946 and promulgated in 1947, does not clearly define the "existing national boundaries." An interpretation by the Council of Grand Justices in 1993 failed to define the politically highly sensitive issue.

The former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration used to claim sovereignty over China, Tibet and Mongolia, a stance that caused tension between Taiwan and the three parties.

Chen said that the time of constitutional reform conducted by political elites was over, and without grassroots participation and public support, any future constitutional reform was doomed to failure.

"In order to facilitate constitutional reforms, future administrations will have to build consensus from the bottom up, rather than impose it from above," he said.

The seven constitutional amendments passed over the past 15 years were testaments to complicated and fierce rivalry among political parties, he said.

Taking the example of cancelation of the legislature's consent of the appointment of the premier, Chen said that it was clearly made to cater to the need of one particular person at one particular time.

Under the premise of maintaining the status quo, Chen said that he was wondering whether the public should tolerate more open discussion about the issue.

Chen said that he reiterated in this year's and last year's New Year addresses that Taiwan is a country and he believed that most people in Taiwan would support this.

The DPP's Central Executive Committee is planning to discuss the party's draft constitutional amendments when it meets on Oct. 4. Once finalized, the draft would proceed to the DPP legislative caucus, which would then discuss it with other caucuses.

DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun said that his party, which does not enjoy a legislative majority, would not and could not dictate any changes.

"The results will not be a surprise for the US government," he said. "I guarantee the entire process is democratic and the end result is open."

Yu said that he personally is in favor of enacting a new constitution and change the national title to Taiwan, but added that he would respect the opinions of his party and the government.

KMT RESPONSE

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) said yesterday that it would not agree with the proposal to change the Constitution, casting the president's comments as a move toward independence.

Legislator Tsai Chin-lung (蔡錦隆), a whip of the KMT's legislative caucus, said his caucus did not support further amendments to the Constitution.

Tsai said that the Constitution has undergone seven amendments in 15 years, including one in June last year, and that people are still waiting to see whether that amendment on reducing the number of legislative seats by half is workable.

"President Chen's proposal is an apparent move toward Taiwan's independence, intended to trigger conflict between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, so that he can have an excuse to impose a curfew and secure his presidency," Tsai said.

Chen is under mounting pressure to step down over a series of allegations and scandals involving people near to him. An anti-graft campaign demanding his resignation entered the 16th day of protests yesterday.

Tsai urged the president to "respond to the people's wishes," instead of using another constitutional amendment as a "red herring" to secure his presidency.

"The KMT and the people cannot possibly allow Chen to sacrifice the public interest for his own selfish interests," Tsai said.

PFP SPEAKS

Meanwhile, the People First Party (PFP) said that its legislative caucus would resort to "extreme measures" to paralyze the Legislative Yuan if the DPP insists on pushing for a new constitution in an attempt to help the president "get off the hook" from various allegations.

Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞), a PFP legislative caucus whip, told reporters that Chen's integrity was "seriously in doubt," and that there was no justification for the president to propose further amendments to the Constitution or the drafting of a new constitution.

Lee outlined his party's stance after Chen told a seminar earlier yesterday that it was time now to "seriously consider redressing the unrealities in the Constitution," including the Constitution's claim that the Republic of China's territory covers the whole of China and Mongolia.

"Such moves toward Taiwan's independence are actually intended to divert attention from the corruption scandals implicating the president and his family and to blur the focus of the ongoing anti-corruption campaign," Lee said.

The US and other members of the international community will not support the government's move, and the only effect will be to provoke Beijing, cause more tension in cross-strait relations and expose the people of Taiwan to greater danger, Lee said.

He warned that the PFP would respond with radical measures, including paralyzing the legislature, if the government insisted on "gambling with the security of the people of Taiwan."

He did not offer details of how his party would attempt to paralyze the legislature.