Although legal and political experts attending a constitutional reform conference yesterday agreed that the country's Constitution is problematic, they were divided over what government system would be the best replacement.
"Your current semi-presidentialism is dysfunctional," said Tom Ginsburg, a law and political science professor at the University of Illinois Law School. "I'd suggest some form of either the classic semi-presidential system or perhaps the pure presidential system with some modifications for your local conditions."
Ginsburg was one of the guest speakers invited by the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission of the Executive Yuan to attend the last day of a two-day international conference on constitutional re-engineering.
Ginsburg said that there are more semi-presidential systems than presidential ones in the world today. The main dimension on which semi-presidential systems vary is the power of the president.
The presidential system has its advantages and disadvantages, Ginsburg said.
Opponents argue that its emphasis is too short-term, is winner-take-all and tends to lead to personality politics.
Under presidential regimes, a minority president is also possible, and this can lead to gridlock.
Supporters, however, contend that a single figure leads to clear accountability under the system. Because presidents are elected on the basis of a national constituency, they have to stand for all of the people, while the prime minister under a parliamentary system does not have to do that.
Presidential regimes, however, are less likely to survive than parliamentary regimes, according to studies, he said.
Ginsburg said that some forms of the presidential system might be worth retaining in Taiwan, but stressed that the ultimate decision would depend on the people of Taiwan.
Ginsburg said that as a society descended from China, it might be relevant that for the last 2,500 years there has been a single person at the center of China's political system.
In Taiwan's case, Ginsburg argued that if Taiwan had been a parliamentary system over the past 50 years, it would not be a democracy today.
"Had it not been for the presidential system, [former president Lee Teng-hui (
Ginsburg also said that the people count on someone to make major decisions, as the president represents a national constituency.
Ginsburg concluded that the character of political problems confronting Taiwan suggest that the presidential system could be a better option.
Given that the military has no presence in politics, Ginsburg said that the theory that presidential systems are less likely to survive than parliamentary systems probably does not have much application here.
Tsai Tzung-jen (蔡宗珍), a law professor at the National Taiwan University College of Law, argued that the parliamentary system would be a better choice for the country, but also acknowledged that it might be hard to move in that direction.
"Whether people can understand and accept a symbolic president and the adjustment of relevant systems is still in doubt and there may be great obstacles to putting the idea into practice," she said.
Given the current political situation, Tsai said that a semi-presidential system should be excluded altogether, because the line of power and responsibility between the president and the premier is not clearly drawn and the country would pay too high a price for holding on to the same system, which has an "institutional defect."