Is the Republic of China's Democracy Regressing?
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 30, 2008
As we approach the presidential election, the Democratic Progressive Party has been warning people that if the DPP loses the presidential election on the heels of the legislative election, the Republic of China will return to a one-party state, and that the ROC's democracy may regress. DPP legislators are also demanding a constitutional interpretation. They are challenging the constitutionality of the single member district electoral system, claiming that it violates the principle that "all votes should be equal." Chen Shui-bian meanwhile has rejected the Chang Chun-hsiung cabinet's resignation. He has made clear all personnel are to remain put. Faced with so many uncertain political developments, and knowing that democracy must not regress, we have made the following observations.
First of all, for a single political party to win a stable majority in the legislature, win the presidential election, gaining control over both the executive and legislative branches, is entirely consistent with the requirements of democracy. It is not a regressive step, as long as it is the people's free choice, as expressed by their votes. In every presidential, semi-presidential, or dual-leadership system in the world, a single political party often gains control of both the legislative and executive branches following an election. This is hardly something to be alarmed about. In every cabinet system state in the world, the party that wins a stable majority in the parliament automatically gains control of both the legislative and executive branches. This is the democratic norm. On the contrary, it is divided government that is abnormal. It is abnormal for a party that has won a majority in the legislative and presidential elections to be relegated to the status of an opposition party for eight years. For democracy to advance from abnormal to normal can only be described as progress, not regress.
Eight years ago, the KMT lost the presidential election, but retained a majority in the Legislative Yuan. The KMT handed over executive power to president elect Chen Shui-bian, who mocked the legislature as representatives of the "old mandate." Chen proclaimed that he was the representative of a "new mandate," despite the fact that he received merely 39% of the votes. Times have changed. Now the president would appear to be the representative of the "old mandate." Yet when confronting the legislature, which represents a new mandate, he denounces it as a setback for democracy. Does this wash? Only voters who vote for the DPP represent the people. Voters who vote for rival political parties do not represent the people. What is truly regressive is the DPP's anti-democratic attitude.
Secondly, as they approach the end of their terms, DPP legislators have filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the single member district electoral system. Is this progressive, or regressive? Never mind that the new electoral system was something the DPP demanded, a key plank in its policy platform. Never mind that it required a constitutional amendment, one that the DPP rammed through the legislature by holding a hunger strike. The DPP is now doing an about face. It is now denouncing its own system for unfairness based on the outcome of the election. Forget the DPP's contempt for the democratic process. How about its utter lack of sportsmanship? Their constitutional challenge alleges that the single member district electoral system violates the constitutional principle that "all votes should be equal." But the single member district electoral system was subjected to the referendum process. It was the result of a constitutional amendment. How can one demand that a written provision already part of a constitutional amendment be declared unconstitutional? The single member district electoral system has been applied to the administrative districts of municipalities and counties, all in accordance with constitutional requirements. How can these be considered unconstitutional? Is the DPP trying to tell us that single member district electoral systems are unconstitutional per se? This is unheard of. We have no desire to get too exercised over the fact that such unheard of constitutional challenges will be presented to the Grand Justices. What worries us is the anti-democratic attitude behind the DPP's refusal to admit defeat. It is akin to the host of a tournament complaining that the home team lost because the host's ground rules were unfair. To refuse to accept the outcome of a game merely because one lost is hardly a democratic and progressive attitude.
Thirdly, the requirement that the Chang Chun-hsiung cabinet resign at the end of the legislative term is not mere convention. It is a clear cut requirement imposed by the Grand Justices during a previous constitutional interpretation (Interpretation 387). The Chang Chun-hsiung cabinet submitted its joint resignation. What right does the president have to decide that the Grand Justices' interpretation of the constitution no longer applies? Can a president wilfully ignore the Grand Justices' interpretation of the constitution? Why did President Chen retain the cabinet by rejecting its joint resignation? The Grand Justices have already explained that the resignation of a cabinet at the end of a legislative term is a "compulsory resignation." The cabinet must resign. It has no choice. Nor can the president refuse to accept its resignation. (Interpretations 387, 419) If on the other hand, the cabinet resigns during the president's term of office, its resignation is a "courtesy resignation." (Interpretation 419). In other words, it can either resign or not resign. For Chen Shui-bian to reject the cabinet's resignation is contrary to constitutional intent. His hidden agenda is to retain the cabinet. If Hsieh is elected president, the cabinet will stage a showdown with the legislature. It will respond only to the president. It will refuse to respond to the legislature. If Ma Ying-jeou is elected president, the cabinet can then refuse to submit courtesy resignations. Since the Grand Justices have said they have no obligation to resign in such a case, the cabinet will refuse to resign and refuse to hand over executive power. If the legislature attempts to bring down the cabinet via a vote of no-confidence, the Executive Yuan will demand a constitutional interpretation. The DPP will allege that the electoral system for the legislative elections is unconstitutional. It has already filed an appeal for a constitutional interpretation, alleging that the legislature has no legitimacy. If the ruling regime's overall strategy is to selectively twist the meaning of the constitution, and to refuse to hand over power when defeated at the polls, that can hardly be termed democratic and progressive.
The ruling DPP is displaying utter contempt for the new public mandate. It is demanding constitutional interpretations to negate the results of the parliamentary elections. It is resorting to unconstitutional means to reject the cabinet resignation. It is attempting to leave open the possibility of refusing to hand over political power in the event of a debacle in the presidential election. We have good reason to worry that the Republic of China's system of constitutional government is on the verge of regression. The ruling DPP may well attempt to split asunder a duly elected government by such unconstitutional and underhanded means. Let us hope are fears are unfounded.