The constitutional reform the nation needs should be based on two fundamental ideas: human rights and reconstruction of the legislative system, Taiwan Democracy Watch said yesterday, criticizing recent calls for changes to be made to the government system by the major political parties as “insincere” and “incomplete.”
National Taiwan University law professor and watchdog group supervisor Yen Chueh-an (顏厥安) said constitutional amendments should not be seen as the equivalent of constitutional reforms.
“It is possible for constitutional amendments to be small bore or take a turn for the worse,” Yen said.
Taiwan’s second democratic reform — the first having been the dangwai (黨外, “outside the party”) movement and subsequent democratic activities over the past 20 to 30 years — should aim for greater human rights and re-establishment of the nation’s parliament, the group said.
“So far, the calls for constitutional amendments have been focused on changes to the existing government system, but what is required is a complete set of substantial reforms rather than parties haggling [over the wanted revisions],” National Taiwan University College of Social Sciences professor Liu Ching-yi (劉靜怡) said.
One part of substantial reforms would require the state to protect people’s rights more aggressively, rather than waiting for citizens to make claims on their own, she said.
“The branches of our government have long overlooked the issue of human rights and have a limited understanding of what human rights are. They have enthusiastically engaged in power struggles, but have never fought each other to defend the rights of the people, who are the ones who conferred them the power,” Liu said.
On reconstruction of the parliamentary system, Yen said the idea is to have legislature fortified with the power and responsibility over policy formation and decisionmaking, rather than passively “catering to” the executive branch or boycotting policy implementation.
In North America and European nations, elected representatives debate public policies and decisions in their legislative bodies and assume responsibility for policy execution afterward, Yen said.
Taiwan, which underwent a long period of both colonial and authoritarian rule, lacks a similar parliamentarian spirit, Yen said.
“Our representatives’ only function is to convey public opinion to whoever is ruling, or channel decisions from the ruling party to make official decisions in the legislature. The political status of the legislature and its members is far lower than that of the executive branch, to the extent that lawmakers have to take orders from party officials,” Yen said.
The watchdog proposed three systems that are based on the idea of parliamentary governance: a Cabinet system, with indirect presidential elections; a quasi-Cabinet system, with directly elected presidents who lack substantial power; or the US presidential system, which features a strong Congress.
“Keeping in line with the concept of a parliament, the abolishment of the Control Yuan, which fragments the legislature’s investigative power, and the Examination Yuan could be expected,” Academia Sinica associate research professor Chiou Wen-tsong (邱文聰) said.
“Political parties should also be regulated to prevent them from owning, investing or running for-profit businesses, and from possessing an amount of property that is unrelated to their mission,” Chiou said.
National Taiwan University law professor Chen Chao-ju (陳昭如) said both the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) put too much emphasis on the operational mechanisms of politics, but not enough on the protection of human rights.
The KMT’s call for constitutional amendments is “insincere,” as it endorses a Cabinet system, but avoids making proposals on electoral system reforms for the legislature and the party, while the DPP’s focus on the electoral system and its recent call for presidential power to dismiss the legislature, as a way to counteract the KMT’s Cabinet system, are “running the party against public discontent regarding the expansion of presidential powers that come with no responsibilities and are incomplete,” Chen said.
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