Thu, Mar 11, 2004 - Page 3 News List

Believing in the people

In the second half of a two-part exclusive interview with the `Taipei Times,' President Chen Shui-bian promises to continue promoting democratic reform and the establishment of a Taiwanese identity

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President Chen Shui-bian reads documents at a campaign event in Taichung County last Friday.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

Taipei Times: You have promised to expedite the formulation of a new constitution once you take office for your second term, with the goal of having a draft of the constitution approved by referendum in 2006 and formally brought into effect when the new president takes office in May 2008.

The US and the international community are concerned that this might in fact be the path toward Taiwan's independence, although you have promised that the terms of reference for the new constitution will not change the status quo and have emphasized that constitutional reform is a process on which the survival of Taiwan's democracy depends, and has nothing to do with independence or unification.

But, if a majority of the people called for changing the country's flag, name or territorial boundaries, would your government push that kind of constitutional reform? Or would it ignore the will of the people and just avoid such sensitive topics in order to preserve stability in the Taiwan Strait?

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁): I announced my "five noes" in my inauguration speech in 2000. I cannot say one thing in 2000 and then say another once I get re-elected. I have stressed many times that we must maintain the status quo, maintain Taiwan's current sovereignty, democratic development and economic affluence, maintain peace in the Taiwan Strait.

Not only do we want to maintain the status quo; we also want to avoid the status quo being changed unilaterally. The kind of constitutional reform we wish to promote -- including when we have been re-elected -- will be promoted on the basis that it preserves Taiwan's status quo; that Taiwan's status quo will not change.

The current constitution was ratified in 1947 in China in a process in which the people of Taiwan did not participate, a process to which they did not agree. Of the 175 clauses in the constitution, at least two-thirds need amending.

These include the questions of whether to go the American route and establish a presidential system of government, or take the British course and establish a cabinet government, and whether we should have three branches of government or maintain the current five.

As far as the election of the president is concerned, should we opt for a simple majority or an absolute majority? Should we have two tiers of government or three? In addition, on basic human rights, economic development, compassion for the weak, there are many issues that are affected by the articles of the Constitution.

If we are to create additional posts, such as deputy premier and deputy speaker of the Legislative Yuan, we will need to revise the constitution. If we are to reduce the voting age by two years from 20 to 18, we will need to revise the constitution.

TT: Each time there is an election, there are always people who bring up the topic of an ethnic melting pot and accuse others of harming ethnic minorities. Which party do you believe is doing the most to promote ethnic harmony, and which is doing the most to promote conflict? When you have been re-elected, what will you do to deal with the ghost of ethnic strife, which haunts Taiwan?

Chen: I have always believed that Taiwan's multiethnicity is one of the resources of which we can be most proud. In the past our ethnic differences allowed the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to promote a one-party state, with the ethnic minorities on the sidelines, using them, controlling them. But the Democratic Progrssive Party (DPP) respects ethnic minorities. Now, all ethnic groups can express themselves, freely develop and pursue their dignity and their own future. In the past, when immigrants from China wrote letters to their relatives in China, they risked being arrested. The DPP was the first party to call for them to be allowed to visit their relatives in China. Also in the past, the Hakka and Fujian dialects and other native tongues almost disappeared under KMT suppression, but the DPP established a Hakka Affairs Commission, Haaka radio and TV stations, enabling Hakka culture to put down roots. The DPP promotes and has implemented education in one's native tongue; we renamed "Chiehshou Road" (介壽路), "Ketagalan Boulevard," called the Aboriginal people by their rightful names and signed a New Partnership agreement with Aborigines to promote their autonomy.

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