Sun, May 15, 2005 - Page 3 News List

Passage of reforms to the constitution almost a sure thing

By Huang Tai-lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Although yesterday's National Assembly elections were pretty much a litmus test for the cross-strait positions of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the opposition party leaders, it must be remembered that the real purpose of the elections was to select delegates to who will debate the constitutional amendment package.

Judging from last night's electoral result, many analysts said it is almost certain that the amendment package approved by the Legislative Yuan last August will be passed by the 300-member National Assembly.

The 12 political parties and civic groups made clear their positions on constitutional reform prior to the elections. Each candidate will not vote according to their personal views, but toe the lines of the party or group they represent.

Both the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) support the passing of the amendment package, as these changes favor big political parties.

The DPP had garnered 127 seats, the KMT 117 seats and a total of five seats were secure by other groups which favor the constitutional amendments.

"Since 249 members out of the National Assembly's 300 delegates are in favor of the amendment package, there will be no problem in passing the amendment package," said Soochow University political science professor Emile Sheng (盛治仁).

The functional National Assembly will convene for one month starting May 31 at the latest. The National Assembly will be forever disbanded after the completion of its session.

The proposed amendments include halving the number of seats in the legislature from 225 to 113 beginning from 2007 and increasing the term of legislators to four years from three years, as well as replacing the current multiple-constituency, single-vote system with a single-constituency, two-vote system.

Other constitutional amendments slated to go before the assembly are plans to empower grand justices of the Judicial Yuan to screen presidential and vice presidential impeachment proposals, and permanently abolish the National Assembly and enshrining in the Constitution the right to hold referendums.

Any future amendments to the Constitution must be approved by three-quarters of the legislature and ratified by a national referendum.

While both the DPP and the KMT are in favor of the inclusion in the Constitution of the people's right to hold a referendum, future disputes over the "one China" principle are expected to continue, Sheng said.

"That point of contention therefore, will nonetheless take place between the two biggest parties," he said

Noting that the failed attempt by the DPP to put a bill governing the functioning of the National Assembly to a legislative vote on Friday, some analysts said that not passing the bill -- which will provide a legal basis for the 300 elected delegates -- could trigger a constitutional stalemate.

"The delegates might not be able to exercise their functions, as legislators have yet to reach a consensus over the threshold for assembly delegates to ratify the constitutional amendments," said Chiu Hei-yuan (瞿海源), a sociology professor at National Taiwan University.

Chiu was referring to both Taiwan Solidarity (TSU) and People First Party (PFP) legislators' opposition to the bill. Both the TSU and the PFP had then argued to keep three-quarters support as the threshold to pass an amendment, while the DPP and the KMT insisted on one-half.

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