Tue, Jan 13, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Groups call for public role in constitutional reform

GRASSROOTS VOICE:A coalition of 21 civic groups plans to hold a series of forums and a convention to gather public opinion before drafting constitutional changes

By Lii Wen  /  Staff reporter

A coalition of civic groups yesterday called for civic engagement and grassroots participation to push for constitutional reform, amid growing support for changes to the Constitution across party lines following the Nov. 29 elections last year.

The Civic Alliance to Promote Constitutional Reform, a coalition of 21 civic groups formed in October last year, said that constitutional amendments in the past lacked input from the public and were largely conducted in an “elitist” fashion.

The alliance laid out a timetable leading up to 2018, in which a series of public forums — including “grassroots forums (草根論壇)” and “promotion forums (推動論壇)” — are to be held around the nation to compile public opinion on constitutional reform, followed by a “civil convention on constitutional government” (公民憲政會議) to turn in a final version for legislative review.

Certain procedural amendments to invite broader participation in the reforms, such as lowering the threshold for referendums and lowering the minimum voting age, should be made through a faster separate process before next year’s presidential election, the alliance said.

Last month, 36 legislators from across party lines endorsed a proposal to amend the constitution as a way of resolving what they see as the nation’s constitutional-political impasse and lack of presidential accountability.

The motion followed separate proposals by New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), who is the sole candidate for the Chinese Nationality Party’s (KMT) upcoming chairmanship election, and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to push for constitutional reform.

Human rights lawyer Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強) said that plans to reform the Constitution have been brewing since the Sunflower movement in March and early April last year, in which student-led protesters occupied the legislature’s main chamber to protest the government’s handling of a proposed cross-strait service trade agreement.

Lai said that events leading up to the Sunflower movement illustrated a “crisis in constitutional government,” in which the “unrestrained power” of the executive branch infringed upon the legislative process.

Taiwan Democracy Watch convener Hsu Wei-chun (徐偉群) said that although recent calls for constitutional reform made by politicians provided a “long-awaited political opportunity” for the alliance, reform should not follow in the footsteps of past amendments — referring to the seven amendments made to the Constitution between 1991 and 2005.

“Past constitutional amendments completely ignored the opinion of the people,” Covenants and Conventions Watch convener Huang Song-lih (黃嵩立) said. “Our goal is to allow all members of the public to become involved in constitutional reform.”

Given that the constitution should be representative of the “fundamental values” of the nation, disadvantaged groups, such as women’s rights groups or advocates for the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, should also be involved in the process of constitutional reform, the alliance said.

The activists said they had presented their proposal to representatives of the Taiwan Solidarity Union and the People First Party last week, and are set to engage in discussions with the two major parties soon.

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