State of the Nation Report: Avoid a War of Words
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 27, 2012
Summary: After due deliberation and discussion, the Office of the President has clarified its position. President Ma is pleased that the Legislative Yuan passed a formal resolution. He will be happy to use the State of the Nation Report to explain the government's policies to the public. But Ma has preconditions. Everything must be consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Nothing must blur the distinction between the powers and responsibilities of the president and the premier.
Full Text below:
After due deliberation and discussion, the Office of the President has clarified its position. President Ma is pleased that the Legislative Yuan passed a formal resolution. He will be happy to use the State of the Nation Report to explain the government's policies to the public. But Ma has preconditions. Everything must be consistent with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Nothing must blur the distinction between the powers and responsibilities of the president and the premier.
On the surface, the Office of the President has signed off on the State of the Nation Report. But it set preconditions. It made clear that any questioning by legislators, whether multiple questions followed by a single answer, or single questions followed by single answers, would imply that the president is answerable to the Legislative Yuan. This would obfuscate the roles of the president and the premier. This would blur the distinction between the two leaders' rights and responsibilities. Therefore the disagreements between the ruling and opposition parties over the State of the Nation Report will not be resolved any time soon.
President Ma Ying-jeou insists on strict adherence to the constitution. For this, he deserves affirmation. But he also clings obstinately to the Additional Articles to the Constitution. He insists that any Q&A session following the State of the Nation Report would set a negative constitutional precedent. His obstinacy does nothing to facilitate interparty consultation. It will merely turn the president's State of the Nation Report before the Legislative Yuan and other policy issues into an occasion for partisan political rhetoric. .
According to the Additional Articles to the Constitution, "When the Legislative Yuan convenes each year, it may listen to the State of the Nation Report." In other words, the Legislative Yuan may or may not choose to listen to the State of the Nation Report, and delivering a State of the Nation Report is not the president's constitutional obligation. Prior to these constitutional precedents, former President Lee Teng-hui already visited the National Assembly and delivered the State of the Nation Report. He set a precedent by responding to recommendations made by the National Assembly on behalf of the nation. Following the abolition of the National Assembly, its powers and responsibilities were transferred to the Legislative Yuan. The Chen Shui-bian administration ruled for eight years, President Chen Shui-bian requested an opportunity to make a State of the Nation Report before the Legislative Yuan on more than one occasion. But opposition Kuomintang Legislators were hardly prepared to allow Chen Shui-bian to make a grand entrance before the legislature, and bask in the honors bestowed upon a head of state.
In May 2008, President Chen Shui-bian was preparing to leave office. The Legislative Yuan amended the Legislative Yuan Duties Enforcement Act. This provided the constitutional amendments with a clearer legal basis. Under the newly amended "Legislative Yuan Powers Law," the "Legislators would ask questions about unclear aspects of the State of the Nation Report." It also stipulated that "The aforementioned legislator questioning would be subject to presidential approval. Legislators would first ask their questions. The president would combine their questions into one, and answer them all at one time."
From this we know that the president's State of the Nation Report is a form of communication with legislators, But what terminology should be used to describe this communication? Basically legislators may ask questions. But the president may choose not to answer them, based on his right of consent. The president may choose to reply or not. In other words, President Ma Ying-jeou will decide whether to deliver the State of the Nation Report before the Legislative Yuan. The decision does not belong to the legislature. The Legislative Yuan resolution does not specify whether the President must respond to one question at a time, or to all questions at one time. At most it asks the President to listen to the legislators' questions and offer a supplementary report. Whether the president provides a supplementary report, is up to him. The ruling and opposition legislators have no say in the matter.
The President's State of the Nation Report is a major constitutional issue. But for most people, it is a matter of no particular urgency, They may even want to subject the presidential to written or verbal abuse. They cannot be bothered to listen to what legislators have to say. More importantly, according to the constitution the president is the head of state, But the premier is the highest ranking executive official within the Executive Yuan. The premier is responsible to the Legislative Yuan. When ruling and opposition legislators oversee government policy and review bills, they are overseeing the Executive Yuan and the heads of various ministries, not the president.
The President is a symbol of the nation. He must be accorded some degree of respect, In January 1794, George Washington, the first president of the United States, visited Congress and delivered a speech. He established this tradition. Many changes have taken place since then. Thomas Jefferson, the third president, changed policy in writing. He wanted to avoid making the presidential speech appear too condescending, and therefore inconsistent with the principles of republicanism. U.S. presidents appear before Congress. They deliver their State of the Union Addresses. The ruling and opposition parties often find themselves at loggerheads. But opposition legislators invariably give the president a standing ovation, in accordance with tradition. This is a show of respect for the President. It is also a show of respect for the nation.
Kuomintang legislators refused to allow Chen Shui-bian to address the Legislative Yuan. To some extent their intent was to prevent Chen Shui-bian from basking in the applause of the legislature. DPP legislators must now ask themselves a question. Are they willing to give Ma Ying-jeou a standing ovation when he appears before the Legislative Yuan? Suppose they are unwilling. Suppose they refuse to do so. Suppose they attempt to use the opportunity to humiliate the president. Ma Ying-jeou is not the one who will be hurt. Those hurt will be DPP leaders, who lack political maturity. .
Will the President appear before the legislature? What protocols should be observed when he does? This dilemma is not the President's. This dilemma is the Legislative Yuan's, If the president wants to address the nation. he need not do to before the Legislative Yuan. He can do so any time at any place. The issues of concern to legislators, are whether to impose license taxes, whether to raise gasoline and electricity prices, whether to delay 12 year compulsory education. .. None of these are the president's constitutional powers or responsibilities. Suppose the president appears before the Legislative Yuan. The legislators raise questions. The President can simply refer the questions to the Executive Yuan and be done with them. The President occupies a position of dominance as the head of state. The majority of people prefer a head of state who displays good manners and evinces political maturity. The Office of the President need not refuse to respond to legislators' questions in advance, or become caught up in a war of words between the ruling and opposition parties.