The reason the single-member district, two-vote system has been adopted is essentially because of a firm belief that one must stick by the plan. The decision was made in the early 1990s that Taiwan should eventually adopt a proportional representative system and once that decision was made, it had to be followed, regardless of the reasoning behind the original decision. However, there's a better chance of improving the way the system is implemented by tweaking it rather than scrapping it and starting over.
The decision to cut the number of legislative seats by half was intended to teach legislators a lesson and eliminate those not taking their job seriously. However, the power struggle between the legislature and the Cabinet remains unchanged.
Putting all the emphasis on weeding out bad legislators doesn't address the underlying issues that a problematic Constitution has caused: an imperial-style legislature that blocks the president from carrying out administrative reforms.
Halving the number of legislative seats completely misses the point.
As long as an individual legislator does a good job, he or she stands a good chance of getting reelected without the help of "black gold" politics. In a district that favors the legislator's party, he or she could practically become a life-long legislator.
What needs to be noted is that halving the number of legislators will not necessarily make for hardworking, honest politicians. In fact, it increases the power of legislators. It's clear that this reform is pointless.
Some people advocate complementing measures as part of the reform, such as making each legislator sit on two legislative committees or merging certain committees.
At first glance, this may seem to make sense, but the problem is that, even with the current number of legislators, quite a few hard-working legislators say they are struggling to do everything that needs to be done, especially when it comes to committee work.
If we don't address the issue of workload, cutting down the number of legislators isn't going to solve anything, and merging committees isn't going to do the trick either. How will our legislators be able to carry out their duties efficiently, while dedicating enough time to each issue to acquire the in depth knowledge needed for making decisions?
It is worth noting that the greatest obstacles for a government do not arise from having a minority in the legislature. The 1997 constitutional amendment that stipulates that the president must have the support of a legislative majority to be able to overturn a bill put forward by the opposition violates the spirit of the division of government into three branches.
As we do not have a parliamentary system, what is the rationale of letting the legislature block our popularly elected president on legislative matters? If the president is to have complete control of national affairs, we must return to the old system, in which the president only needed the support of one-third of the legislature for his/her proposals, thus leaving the legislature with a passive veto power.
Constitutional reform will come too slow, but there may be other ways to deal with this problem. It seems that voters are frustrated with the overall performance of the legislature, but as long as any given legislator offers satisfactory representation for his or her district, that legislator could have a long career.
This shows that the crux of the problem is not the quality of our legislators, but rather that there is not enough pressure on political parties and the legislature to accomplish real reform.
Shih Cheng-feng is a professor of public administration at Tamkang University.
Translated by Lin Ya-ti and Perry Svensson
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