Amend the Constitution, Combine the 2016 Elections
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 9, 2011
The dates for the presidential and legislative elections are too close together. They necessitate holding two elections merely three months apart. On the one hand, the timing fails to reflect public wishes. On the other hand, it clearly squanders public resources. Therefore the suggestion that the two elections be combined has considerable justification. The DPP has recently said it has "no particular objection."
Combining the elections however, will have constitutional repercussions. One must pay attention to these repercussions. Combining the two elections will require constitutional amendments. The legislature may not have time to pass these amendments. The Blue and Green parties should first amend the constitution. They should first assure the public that the elections will be combined no later than 2016. They can then adopt the administrative and political measures required to merge the presidential and legislative elections.
The president has a four year term. Inauguration day is May 20. Legislators also have four year terms. The legislature convenes each year between February and May and between September and December. A legislator's term of office expires on January 31. The constitution stipulates that newly elected legislators must begin their terms on February 1.
The constitutional amendments in question make no provisions for the date of the presidential election. But the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Law states that elections must be announced 120 days before term expiration, and that balloting must take place 30 days before term expiration. For legislators, the constitutional amendments in question merely state that balloting must take place three months before terms expiration. The Civil Service Personnel Election and Recall Law states that balloting must take place at least ten days before term expiration.
Suppose we wish to combine the elections during the current term, by combining the above laws. Our choice of election dates will be limited. The election may need to be held after November 1, 2011, but before January 20, 2012. Only then would the date for the legislative elections be legal. The date for the presidential election is more flexible. As long as it is consistent with the constitution and the law, it can be moved up and held on the same day as the legislative elections. These are the options under the constitution and the law.
Suppose we combine the two elections, according to the above requirements. The presidential election would have be moved up from its current date in March, to sometime before January 20. Next, the date would have to be coordinated with the legislative elections. Suppose both elections are moved up to January 20. The term of office for the outgoing president would be shortened by at least two months, Add two months to that, and it could be shortened by as much as four months. Suppose current conditions prevail. Suppose Ma Ying-jeou is re-elected. Or suppose conditions change, and another change in ruling parties follows. The president's term of office would be too long. It would risk violating the constitution.
Now take the legislative elections. As mentioned earlier, incoming legislators would assume office on February 1. The law states that elections must be held at least 10 days in advance. But if the legislators are sworn in less than 10 days after elections are announced, the timing would be too rushed. Therefore delaying the changing of the guard as long as the law allows may not be appropriate. If the timing is too rushed, and delays are too long, the presidential election would have to be moved up. The term of the outgoing president would have to be extended. This presents us with a dilemma.
The above applies only to the constitution and law as they currently stand. Changing the polling dates in order to combine the elections must be regarded as an expedient. If the legislature wishes to combine the presidential and legislative elections, and avoid moving up the presidential election or postponing the legislative elections, it must amend the constitution. It has no alternative. Changing the term for legislators requires too many changes to the constitution. It would be easier to change the term for the president, Next, the legislature will need to amend the law. The presidential and legislative elections must precede term expiration by the same amount of time. This will enable the legislature to combine the elections. This will enable the legislature to avoid making the president's term too long, or legislators' changing of the guard too rushed. But we have a problem. Even supposing the ruling and opposition parties were in complete agreement, it is too late to amend the constitution and the law during the current term.
The Blue and Green political parties have already agreed to combine the two elections, Each party has its own political calculations. They could change and combine the election dates without amending the constitution and the law. But that would be an administrative and political solution. The constitutional and legal problems would linger. If they fail to amend the constitution and the law, they will be forced to change the election dates repeatedly for every election. Sooner or later, this would precipitate a constitutional crisis.
There is one solution. The two parties should issue a joint declaration. They should immediately propose an amendment to the constitution and the laws. They should assure the public that the elections will be constitutionally combined no later than 2016. They should present this constitutional amendment to the public for a popular referendum. Such a move would help persuade the public of the need to change and combine the elections. That said, combining the elections during the current term could precipitate a constitutional crisis.
Can the elections be combined? Combining them could conserve precious social capital. Combining them could also precipitate a constitutional crisis. The pros must be weighed against the cons. The gains must be weighed against the losses.