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`Reform' has become final refuge of political ruffians

TERM EXTENSIONS The amendments have become law, but the furor remains and could even grow

B y Lauren Chen  /  STAFF REPORTER

New Party deputies at the National Assembly protest the vote to extend the session late last month.

PHOTO: TAIPEI TIMES

The terms extensions of the National Assembly and the Legislative Yuan may have become law when President Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) promulgated this year's constitutional amendments on Sept. 15 -- but the furor over the extensions shows no signs of dying down.

The KMT's expulsion of National Assembly Speaker Su Nan-cheng (蘇南成) from the party -- and therefore also from his post -- on Sept. 8, made him the scapegoat for the affair, but has done little to calm the uproar.

Meanwhile, the DPP's assembly caucus leaders -- who worked with their KMT counterparts to get the extensions passed -- continue to claim the package was the maximum reform effort possible, given the current political climate.

Critics, however, say that it is too early to determine whether the term extension amendment will prove to be good medicine or poison for the congressional reform effort.

Under the amendment, the length of the current National Assembly term was extended by two years and 48 days to June 2002; the voting process for the next assembly election was changed to a proportional system, in which seats will be divided up according to the ratio of votes each party gains in that year's legislative elections; and the number of deputies was reduced from the current 316 to 150. The next legislative elections were also postponed from December 2001 to June 2002.

The deputies passed the amendment despite strong objections from both the DPP and the KMT party headquarters, as well as a lack of public support.

DPP assembly caucus leader Liu I-deh (劉一德), the main figure behind the term extensions, defended the vote as a long-term strategy.

"Even though we want to perform a surgical operation to remove the `political appendix,' we have to first give it an anesthetic injection,'' he said, referring to the DPP's long-standing view of the National Assembly as an unnecessary institution.

"In using a `sweetener' [of term extensions] to lure the support of deputies in exchange for a proportional representation system, such a deal could not be more profitable," he said.

"My proposal aimed to abolish the assembly by means of suicide," Liu added.

Others such as Wu Nan-jen (吳乃仁), a member of the DPP's Central Standing Committee, echoed Liu's belief.

"Even though we cannot abolish the assembly in the short term, a proportional system can help prevent the situation from getting any worse. If we continue to hold assembly elections, I can guarantee that the quality of deputies will continue to decline," Wu said.

"I would rather chain the monster-like assembly with a proportional system than allows unrestrained elected deputies to amend the constitution however they like," he added.

Some academics dismiss the "reform" vocabulary, saying there is nothing to guarantee such reform aims will be acted upon. Or, as one scholar put it, the "reform cloak has become no more than a `final refuge' for political scoundrels.''

Beyond the actual reform considerations, however, deputies from both the DPP and the KMT admit that if they failed to cooperate to pass the controversial amendments with the required three-fourths majority (as happened in the previous assembly session), they would have run into more difficulties in the new session.

"In a newly-elected assembly next March [if there had been no extension] there would likely have been more than 100 deputies supporting KMT maverick presidential candidate James Soong (宋楚瑜), which would make the political variables much more complicated than now," said Chen Ching-jen (陳鏡仁), a KMT assembly caucus leader.

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