Tue, Apr 02, 2002 - Page 3 News List

Showdown looms over `state of the nation' speech

By Crystal Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The legislature is bracing for another showdown today when lawmakers are slated to decide whether to invite President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to deliver a state-of-the-nation speech.

The four legislative caucuses have all issued a top-mobilization order asking members to attend the assembly.

The ruling DPP is expected to have difficulty defeating the motion when it is introduced by the TSU.

"We are not against the proposal itself," said DPP legislative whip Wang Tuoh (王拓). "But we have decided to withhold our support for fear that our opposition colleagues might use the occasion to humiliate the president."

The ruling party, with 89 votes in the 225-member legislature, lacks the majority needed to block the measure.

For the first time since the session began on Feb. 1, its 13 TSU allies said they would vote at odds with the DPP in the interest of upholding the Constitution.

The proposed fourth constitutional amendment stipulates that the lawmaking body may hear a report by the president on the state of the nation.

"We find it important for the president to set an example for future successors to follow," said TSU lawmaker Chen Chien-ming (陳建銘), who sponsored the bill.

He added that his party is not an organ of the DPP.

Before the National Assembly was reduced to a non-regular organ in 2000, the president had to appear before its convocation, hearing and responding to their advice on national affairs.

Though the legislature has since taken over the power of the assembly, it has not maintained this particular practice.

President Chen has said he is willing to fulfill any duty required of him, but is hesitant to take questions from lawmakers, as the practice falls outside the constitutional design.

Both the KMT and the PFP have signaled their approval of the invitation and suggested holding a question-and-answer session right after Chen's speech.

"With the country facing critical challenges at home and abroad, we don't think Chen's speech alone will satisfy our need to know," said PFP lawmaker Thomas Lee (李桐豪).

KMT legislative whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世) agreed, saying his aides are asking fellow colleagues to attend the vote today. Those who fail to show up will be fined NT$10,000.

But Wang said that even if the motion passes, the DPP caucus would continue seeking to postpone the speech during cross-party talks.

He expressed apprehension that opposition lawmakers would grill the president over the recent disclosure of classified intelligence documents.

"Legislators should not be allowed to embarrass the president when exercising their right of oversight," Wang said.

"We will try to get all caucuses to agree on when the speech will be held, how it will be carried out, what it should cover and so on."

Also, the legislature will vote on whether to set up an investigative committee to probe the Lafayette frigate affair -- an arms-purchasing scandal dating back to the KMT-controlled government.

In addition, the lawmaking body will take up the PFP motion on whether to ask the Council of Grand Justices to rule on the legality of disfranchising "ghost voters" -- residents who move their registered residency to other districts months ahead of certain elections in an attempt to affect their outcome.

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