In 1781, leery of creating a strong central government that might mirror the British monarchy they had just rejected, the American colonists drew up the Articles of Confederation. Within a few short years, the citizens of this new democracy realized that the states-centered government they had established was not a viable vehicle for the dynamic times they faced.
Wary of too much centralized power, the Articles had purposely established a constitution that vested the largest share of power to the individual states. Each state retained its "sovereignty, freedom and independence." No executive or judicial branches of government were set up. Instead there was a committee of delegates representing each state that was responsible for conducting foreign affairs. But this "Continental Congress" was denied the power to collect taxes or enforce laws.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 first set out to amend the original Articles, but delegates soon understood that a new constitution was needed. The new structure of government was a form of federalism that gave more power to the national government and established a system of checks and balances within that governmental structure.
The convention had done its work behind closed doors and with its adjournment the new constitution was submitted for ratification. A rich, rigorous debate followed and newspapers filled with political essays.
Anti-federalists argued that the Constitution would come too close to making a king of the president, worried that it favored the rich, that it denied individual rights to citizens because it lacked a bill of rights. The political logjam was finally broken when the federalists agreed to add a bill of rights if the states would first ratify the Constitution.
The US Constitution has been amended many times since its inception.
The EU is currently debating a new constitution as well and the variety of views on it is as disparate as were those in the US debate. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has declared, "For me, the constitution is the most important treaty since the foundation of the European Economic Community."
Others believe the current draft is deficient. European Commission President Romano Prodi said, "Despite all the hard work we have put into this, the text that is now before us simply lacks vision and ambition." Who said democracy would be easy?
President Chen Shui-bian (
There are those who prefer to amend the worn-out 1947 ROC Constitution, just as some members of the Constitutional Congress wanted to update the Articles of Confederation. Attempts to amend the ROC Constitution in the 1990s simply did not provide the kind of balance and clarity needed to meet Taiwan's current realities. It's time for a change.
As in Philadelphia and Brussels, Taiwan must put its best minds to work to craft the new constitution. Chen is correct to call for the involvement of all political parties, constitutional experts, academics and citizens in this constitutional process. The result will provide Taiwan with the long-term stability it needs.
Having learned from the American and European experiences, Taiwan's process of constitutional reform can be a model for the PRC. Clearly the PRC has a long way to go in its current "reform" process, as the recent announcement of a possible constitutional change from a Central Committee meeting of the Chinese Communist Party shows.
At a typically secretive annual planning session, the leaders stated their desire to see written "into the Constitution the ideology and broad objectives established at the 16th Party Congress, so that the Constitution better expresses our Basic Law." Their communique suggests that the Constitution will include private property protection as a right. This seems to reflect the approach of President Hu Jintao (
The National People's Assembly will be called upon to rubber-stamp this decision, presuming all the jockeying within the party's factions simmers down and they come to an agreement.
In contrast to this opaque process, Chen has proposed a transparent, open, and inclusive process that will produce a new constitution that meets the needs of all Taiwan's citizens. Taiwan has learned well from the US and Europe. Now it is Taiwan's time to shine and bring some light to its neighbor across the Taiwan Strait and to the world in general.
Wu Ming-chi is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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