Recent talks between Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and opposition lawmakers in the legislature have resulted in the establishment of a committee for constitutional reform. Assuming the approved constitutional reform bill is able to garner support from three-quarters of all legislators, it will be possible to combine a referendum on constitutional reform with next year’s presidential election, thereby breathing new life into the tattered Republic of China (ROC) Constitution.
Putting to one side the respective political machinations of the parties — and whether it will be possible to achieve real reform of the Constitution that both benefits the public and strengthens Taiwan’s democracy — a steady stream of proposals has flowed since last year’s Sunflower movement advocated constitutional reform.
There has been no shortage of excellent, detailed examination into the failings of the Constitution, its degree of obstructiveness and its unsuitability to the modern era. Civic groups have also drafted many specific reforms. If political parties take into account the views of ordinary people and open their minds to taking on board the accumulated wisdom of society, then perhaps this instance of constitutional reform will be able to rejuvenate Taiwan’s tarnished reputation and re-establish the civic covenant between the public and government.
When Carsun Chang (張君勵) and others were involved in formulating the intellectual essence of the ROC Constitution — and were deliberating over the progressive values of advanced democratic nations [in the 1930s and 1940s] — they sought to protect freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and association in addition to other fundamental human rights. However, under the influence of authoritarian politics, many civic rights were unjustly restricted, in particular as a result of the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法) and the Civil Associations Act (人民團體法), both enacted during the so-called “period of national mobilization for suppression of the communist rebellion.” The two acts openly violated the Constitution and formed a malignant body of law that prevented civilians from exercising their freedoms and rights. Surely the whole point of constitutional reform is to overturn this distorted situation?
From this perspective, the constitutional and political reform that civil society is pushing for cannot simply be narrowly focused on the reform of several clauses within the Constitution. It should comprehensively examine areas of law which are in violation of the Constitution and continue to suppress freedom.
From another perspective, Premier Mao Chi-kuo’s (毛治國) claim that the Kaohsiung City Government’s plan — to write an ordinance on management of the city’s existing industrial pipelines demanding that heavy industries establish their headquarters in the production area — was a violation of the Constitution. This shows that, following the abolition of the Taiwan Provincial Government, the Constitution needs to clearly delineate the separation of powers between central and local government.
A “one constitution, each with its own interpretations” cannot be allowed to develop as it would cause endless disputes. This demonstrates that the Constitution must not be treated as a sacred piece of legislation, but must be treated as any other law. That would be the only way to resolve the current political deadlock.
All Taiwanese must become active participants for political and constitutional reform, give the Constitution free rein to uphold civil rights and clearly state the virtue of having a proper system of rights and duties.
Ku Chung-hwa is the convener of the preparatory committee for the National Alliance of Constitutional Reform.
Translated by Edward Jones
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