At the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) national congress on Sept. 24, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who also serves as the party’s chairperson, called for constitutional reforms. Anyone who understands the situation knows this to be a bogus issue.
Only two years ago, the two main parties in the legislature used that issue to fool Taiwanese. Many now say that talk of constitutional reform is a diversion. Despite that, some have followed up by proposing constitutional reform bills that would introduce a full presidential system or a parliamentary system.
However, if the right of Taiwanese to a constitutional amendment initiative were to be added to the Referendum Act (公民投票法) amendment that is being discussed in the legislative caucuses, this constitutional dilemma could be resolved.
In the last constitutional amendment, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) set a very stringent threshold for constitutional amendments to protect the “one China” constitutional framework.
With a total of 113 legislative seats, a constitutional amendment can be initiated by 29 legislators — one-quarter of the total — and then passed by at least 85 legislators provided a quorum of three-quarters is present.
As the KMT holds 35 seats, passing a resolution is nearly impossible for the legislature.
Even if a miracle were to happen and the legislature passed the amendment, it would have to be approved in a referendum by all eligible voters in the “free area of the Republic of China” — a total of 18.78 million in the most recent presidential election — and the number of valid votes in favor of the amendment would need to exceed one-half of the total number of voters — about 9.4 million — for the constitutional amendment to pass.
Unless the sun rises in the west, a constructional amendment will never pass, which is why a constitutional amendment is a bogus issue.
Moreover, during former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) term and now Tsai’s, the KMT has advocated that the Constitution should stipulate a parliamentary system, making the president a figurehead who would need to respect the premier.
On the other hand, the DPP has advocated a presidential system, saying that the president is elected by a majority of the people and should therefore be given more power.
However, when Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was president, the DPP advocated a parliamentary system on the same grounds that the KMT is using now.
Clearly, both the KMT and the DPP make up their minds according to where they sit — their proposals are for the benefit of their own party, rather than for the long-term stability of Taiwan.
Article 17 of the Constitution gives Taiwanese the right to election, recall, initiative and referendum. However, in the Additional Articles of the Constitution, Taiwanese only have the right to election, recall and referendum — initiative, a direct civil right, is not given systemic protection.
The shackles that the existing Referendum Act imposes on the referendum violate the act’s legislative purpose of “ensuring the exercise of direct civil rights,” which is why it is called a “birdcage referendum law” and why it needs to be amended.
In the previous Legislative Yuan, then-DPP legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) and other DPP legislators proposed a Referendum Act amendment that added the right to initiate constitutional amendments.
The legislature is about to complete the Referendum Act amendment, which would give citizens the right to amend the Constitution or to write a new constitution.
All Taiwanese would share the consequences of a constitutional referendum, enabling the political parties to avoid the problem of causing cross-strait tension.
Lau Yi-te is chairman of the Taiwan Solidarity Union.
Translated by Lin Lee-kai
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