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Mon, Mar 20, 2000 - Page 2 News List

Justices may rule term extension unconstitutional

JUDICIARY The Grand Council of Justices may force the National Assembly to conduct fresh elections

STAFF WRITER WITH AGENCIES

The Council of Grand Justices (大法官會議) has nearly completed its review of constitutional amendments passed by the National Assembly last September. Sources claim the council will declare the amendments unconstitutional on procedural grounds, forcing the assembly to carry out fresh elections before May 20.

The National Assembly passed two major constitutional amendments last year.

The first extended its own terms of office -- which were originally supposed to end this month -- to February 2002.

The second amendment abolished future direct elections for assembly seats in favor of a proportional representation system based on the percentage of the popular vote each party gains in Legislative Yuan elections.

Sources close to the National Assembly have reported that the Council of Grand Justices -- Taiwan's top arbiter on constitutional interpretation -- and a significant portion of assembly members have reached a consensus to overturn the assembly's ruling on grounds that proper procedures were violated.

Those procedures included the vote by secret ballot which finally passed the amendments.

DPP Assembly caucus leader Chen Chin-teh (陳金德) yesterday said DPP assembly members would abide by the council's decision, but added that the amendments were a positive step for reform to Taiwan's political system. Corruption in Saturday's election was significantly reduced by the assembly's decision to cancel direct elections for assembly members that would have been held at the same time as the presidential elections, said Chen.

DPP assemblyman Liu I-te (劉一德) dismissed recent media reports speculating on the judges' ruling and warned the assembly would consider revising Taiwan's system of checks and balances if the council tried to overturn last year's amendments.

KMT assemblyman Alex Tsai (蔡正元) said that an unconstitutional ruling by the justices would face stiff opposition in the assembly. Assembly members might petition to reopen the assembly to discuss the issue, Tsai said.

Council justices expressed confusion over the fierce opposition to the yet-to-be-announced ruling expressed by some assemblymen.

If the council rules last year's amendments unconstitutional, then the National Assembly's decision to cancel elections will have no legal basis and they will have to hold new polls regardless of any new motions the assembly may subsequently pass, said one justice.

The council is expected to announce its ruling this Friday.

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