Under Sun Yat-sen’s (孫逸仙) Constitution, there were five independent branches of government. There was also a national assembly, which wielded parliamentary power. However, in 2005, the national assembly was destroyed by 300 made-in-Taiwan ad hoc assembly members. As far as Sun’s core concept — which imitated the Soviet system — is concerned, the Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China promulgated in Nanjing in 1928 is already dead. Now the real masters of the Constitution are the people of Taiwan.
The Constitution has been amended seven times. Although it is not perfect, the goal of conducting a “constitutional experiment” was achieved. No constitution in the world is designed and put into words on paper, and then suddenly just works within whatever cultural context it is put into practice.
In 1787, delegates were sent from each state in the US to Philadelphia to amend the Articles of Confederation. However, the delegates were deeply inspired by advanced ideas and instead ended up drafting a constitution.
Both the federal and presidential systems were great pioneering innovations. The people in Philadelphia were quite clear on how to elect a president, but had no clue what a federal presidency should look like. Ambiguity abounded. However, what happened in Philadelphia gave future generations ample space to experiment and improve upon the past.
The Northern Taiwan Society certainly supports drafting a constitution in both form and content, but the time is not yet ripe. Until that time, the group will not stop experimenting with pragmatic “real changes” to remedy systems that might be harmful to the nation, and will not give up the opportunity for the “real formation” of a new constitutional system or of a new nation.
After the losses in last month’s nine-in-one elections, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is finally willing to discuss the possibility of constitutional amendments. Of course, the matter must be taken seriously.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) should display a stronger sense of history. Who should be in charge of a future national affairs conference? Which issues have been proposed? Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) urged the need for a timetable; should that just be ignored? Even DPP Chairperson Tsai Ying-wen’s (蔡英文) proposition for a national affairs conference lacks a control point for linking it to the amendment process.
The current stereotypical impression is that the Constitution’s extremely high threshold for amendments was dictated by the Nanjing Provisional Constitution, but it was not. The threshold was created through amendments by the legislature in Taiwan. This intentional wall to block amendments was the result of collusion by two joint principal offenders: the KMT and the DPP.
According to a conference record from the Legislative Yuan Communique (立法院公報) Volume 93, No. 37, in August 2004, the legislature was going over a critical second reading of bills clause by clause, discussing two issues in particular. The first was the adoption of a Japanese-style double-ballot election system, which was created in Germany. The second issue was the erection of the almost insurmountable threshold for constitutional amendments: a quorum of three-quarters of all lawmakers is required to vote on an amendment, and three-quarters of those must approve the amendment, which then must be passed in a referendum in which at least half the electorate participate — a majority of whom must vote in favor of it.
At that time, there were 225 seats in the legislature. Of those, 201 attended the vote on the Japanese-style double-ballot election system — an attendance rate of 89.3 percent. Of them, 200 — 99.5 percent — voted yes. The record shows that only then-KMT lawmaker Chen Hung-chang (陳宏昌) was opposed.
For the bill concerning the amendment threshold, the attendance rate was 88 percent, and it was approved by 93.9 percent of legislators. This was of course the result of 10 negotiations over nearly half a year between the ruling and opposition parties.
The KMT was the opposition and the DPP in power. What will surely puzzle future historians is the question of why there were not more DPP votes opposing the amendment.
Christian Fan Jiang is a director of the Northern Taiwan Society.
Translated by Ethan Zhan
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