Tue, Oct 10, 2006 - Page 3 News List

Analysis: Constitution talk may help Chen

DUCKING AND DIVING The President may have succeeded in diverting attention away from himself but the constitutional issue may be a big red herring

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) caused raised eyebrows last month when he called on the public to consider whether it was time to change the territorial definition of Taiwan.

Chen reiterated his resolve to push for constitutional reform when he attended the DPP's 20th anniversary celebrations on Sept. 28. He vowed to deliver a new Constitution, join the UN under the name "Taiwan" and hold a referendum on the recovery of assets stolen by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT).

The pan-blue alliance has described Chen's ambition as "blank ammunition" as any constitutional reform touching on controversial issues would not pass a pan-blue-dominated legislature.

Amending the Constitution requires the consent of three-quarters of the legislature, followed by a national referendum. Half of the electorate must approve the changes to make them valid.

Bowing to pressure exerted by the US, the DPP's Central Executive Committee, which met on Oct. 4 to discuss the party's constitutional amendment proposals, was deadlocked over the issue. Committee members will continue to meet until they reach a consensus.

The US State Department has issued two strongly-worded statements, urging Chen to stick to his "four noes" pledge and avoid attempts to change Taiwan's Constitution in ways that touch on sovereignty issues.

Presidential Office Deputy Secretary-General Liu Shih-fang (劉世芳) has said that the DPP's final proposal for constitutional amendments would not violate Chen's "four noes" promise and would steer clear of changing the additional articles of the Constitution.

The catch is, however, that territorial definition is not part of the "four noes" nor is it stipulated in the additional constitutional articles.

While the opposition parties have hammered Chen for using constitutional reform to distract attention from the campaign against him, Chen Mu-min (陳牧民), a political science professor at the National Changhua University of Education, said that he did not think Chen's move was made entirely with this aim.

He stated that it was a long-term DPP goal to push for constitutional re-engineering.

However, he pointed out that Chen had neglected the structural problem that any attempt by his administration to amend the Constitution was bound to encounter strong opposition from the international community -- the US and China in particular.

Chen has also overlooked the fact that the public is still divided over the politically sensitive issue and that they do not think constitutional reform is an urgent issue that needs to be dealt with now, he said.

Damien Cai (蔡裕明), a professor of political science at Tainan University of Technology, proposed two reasons why Chen made the announcement amid calls for his resignation.

First, it was made to boost the DPP's morale, which has suffered a significant blow since the Kaohsiung mass rapid transportation scandal surfaced in August last year.

Secondly, it served as a counterattack to Chinese intervention in Taiwanese politics. Beijing has offered several preferential packages to the administration since former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) visited China early last year.

Although the odds of passing constitutional amendments touching on territorial change were extremely slim, Cai said that Chen's policy had helped consolidate the DPP's power and served as a litmus test of the US government's bottom-line.

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