The President Reporting to the Legislature Has Constitutional Implications
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 23, 2012
Summary: Should President Ma deliver his State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan? Once the legislature approves this bill with a majority vote, a constitutional precedent is likely to become a constitutional norm. The Republic of China's constitutional framework will resemble a presidential system. The power of the premier and the legislature may be weakened. That is something all parties need to consider.
Full Text below:
Should President Ma deliver his State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan? Once the legislature approves this bill with a majority vote, a constitutional precedent is likely to become a constitutional norm. The Republic of China's constitutional framework will resemble a presidential system. The power of the premier and the legislature may be weakened. That is something all parties need to consider.
The Additional Articles of the Constitution, Article IV, paragraph 3, states that "when the Legislative Yuan convenes each year, it must listen to the president's State of the Nation Report." They authorize the legislature to ask the president to report to the Legislative Yuan. President Ma has been re-elected, but has yet to officially begin his second term. His poll numbers are in the cellar. The opposition DPP caucus is sharpening its knives. The ruling KMT caucus is hoping to use the president's State of the Nation Report to enhance the KMT's political stature. President Ma has already indicated that he has no objection to delivering the State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan.
The various parties have made their own political calculations. But they all appear to have overlooked one thing. If a legislative majority passes this bill requiring the President to deliver his State of the Nation Address in the Legislative Yuan, it will have far-reaching constitutional and political implications. A constitutional amendment abolished the National Assembly. Additional Articles gave the Legislative Yuan the power to hear the President's State of the Nation Report. But the fact remains the president has never reported to the Legislative Yuan. If the president reports to the Legislative Yuan, his action will have constitutional implications. It will establish a legal precedent. It will transform the existing dual-leadership system into a presidential system.
Under the presidential system in the United States, the president must report to Congress. But the Additional Articles of the Constitution state that only the Legislative Yuan shall listen to the President's State of the Nation Report. Once this happens, this constitutional precedent is certain to become a constitutional norm. It will transform the existing dual leadership system into a presidential system. On the surface it expands the power of the legislature. It authorizes the legislature to demand that the president deliver the State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan. But does the Legislative Yuan really have the power to oversee the President? That remains a giant question mark. The legislators may think that having the president deliver the State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan makes the President answerable to the legislature. But that is mere illusion. The Legislative Yuan has essentially no power to oversee the President. The Legislative Yuan can only oversee the Executive Yuan, not the president. Making the President report to the Legislative Yuan, merely derogates both the authority of the Legislative Yuan and the authority of the Executive Yuan.
Consider the political impact. Consider the number of votes received. The president clearly has greater voter support than any legislator. President Ma Ying-jeou's approval ratings may be low. But that does not mean that the Legislative Yuan will prevail in a clash with the president. The Legislative Yuan can oversee the Executive Yuan, whose officials are not elected. But suppose a precedent is established? Suppose the President delivers the State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan? Suppose that he even submits to interrogation by legislators? Not only would that be unconstitutional, it would also weaken the Executive Yuan.
When President Chen Shui-bian was re-elected, the DPP held a minority in the legislature. The ruling DPP was small, The opposition KMT was large. Chen's policies were often blocked. Had he been permitted to report to the Legislative Yuan, it would have enabled him to look more powerful than he was. It would have provided him with a better bully pulpit. That is why being asked to deliver the State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan is a dream come true. The KMT, as the majority party, could have permitted Chen Shui-bian to speak before the Legislature. But in the end it insisted that "Without the truth, there is no president." Chen Shui-bian was denied his wish.
If the President is allowed to deliver the State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan, he will be the big winner. Take the United States for example. When the president delivers a State of the Union Address, the opposition party must give him a standing ovation. They cannot cross-examine him, The President delivers his address, then walks away. At such a moment who does not know the president is the star of the show? On the surface, the president is reporting to Congress, In fact, the president is reporting to the public. That is why in the United States, even President George W. Bush, who is has zero public appeal, sees his approval ratings climb after reporting to Congress.
For the DPP, the Legislative Yuan is the real battlefield, The Executive Yuan is the branch of government over which the Legislative Yuan has true oversight. The Legislative Yuan has no powers of oversight over the president. Once he has been "invited" to the Legislative Yuan, it will become a case of "inviting someone to the party is easy. asking them to leave is difficult." The president will be in a better position to manipulate the legislature. The DPP has no consensus on the constitutional framework. Before, DPP legislators held differing veiws on whether Chen Shui-bian should be allowed to speak before the Legislative Yuan. They may have been right, or they may have been wrong. But do they still hold the same views today as they did back then? For the KMT, once the president delivering a State of the Nation Report in the Legislative Yuan becomes standard practice, they will be unable to prevent a loose cannon like Chen Shui-bian from doing the same thing.
The impact on the Executive Yuan would be the same. Before, when the president reported to the National Assembly. it was over constitutional amendments and major policies. But when reporting to the legislature, the issues would be social issues that could and should be answered by the Executive Yuan. If the president answers these questions, who is going to listen to wha tthe Executive Yuan has to say? For President Ma, the Additional Articles of the Constitution allow him to report to the Legislative Yuan. But if the existing constitutional framework undergoes substantive change. will they contradict President Ma's long-term constitutional proposals? This is something President Ma needs to consider.