Unilateral Constitutional Revision Equals Partisan Political Struggle
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 9, 2014
Summary: With election season approaching, the DPP and its allies have put forth a variety of proposals for constitutional amendments. To be successful. any party that proposes a constitutional amendment must seek political consensus rather than political struggle. Yet the political parties that are determined to amend the constitution hold precisely the opposite view. That means any political party that proposes a constitutional amendment during election season is probably doing so out of malice. Any proposed constitutional amendment is likely to be stillborn. Proposing it will merely make trouble.
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With election season approaching, the DPP and its allies have put forth a variety of proposals for constitutional amendments. Some with a stake in the elections, such as Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen, have proposed that legislative elections be changed from a Separated Two-Vote System to a Compensatory Two-Vote System, and the number of legislative seats be increased, Others advocate lowering the voting age. Those not directly involved in the elections, who are more concerned about constitutional ideals, advocate changing to the cabinet system.
First consider the cabinet system. This is by no means new. During the early years of the republic, Sun Yat-sen proposed a presidential system. By the time Song Jiaoren proposed a cabinet system, the debate had dragged on for some time, but without any resolution. Politicians who seek the presidency advocate the presidential system. Others, who value the separation of powers advocate the cabinet system. Those who seek to control of both the legislature and the cabinet, favor the cabinet system. By doing so, they hope to improve government efficiency and ensure party responsibility. We lack a democratic tradition, but are struggling to affirm our constitutional system. The presidential system and cabinet system each have their supporters. The two political forces are at loggerheads. Under these conditions, a semi-presidential system appears to be the most feasible compromise.
Emerging constitutional states usually adopt a semi-presidential system. Our constitutional path is no exception. As we move toward a cabinet system, the elected president must be reduced to a figurehead. Expending a huge effort to elect a figurehead president makes no sense. It inevitably raises questions. We lack a hereditary monarch. If not by means of elections, how will we choose a Head of State? Advocates of the cabinet system propose choosing a Head of State by means of public opinion. The cabinet system relies on the legislature to direct politics. The Legislative Yuan on today's Taiwan lacks public trust. Some advocate constitutional reform and the adoption of a cabinet system. But they must first ensure legislative reform. Otherwise, it will remain empty talk. Any discussion of Legislative Yuan reform will make it necessary to discuss other constitutional amendments.
The most baffling proposal for a constitutional amendment is increasing the number of legislators. It lacks any political justification. We will not mince words. The caliber of today's elected legislators is far from ideal. The number of qualified candidates is extremely limited. Considering how poorly they have performed, how can increasing their numbers improve the caliber of the Legislative Yuan? This is clearly contrary to common sense. This is clearly wishful thinking. When one considers who made this proposal, newly installed DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen. it is even less persuasive. Years ago Mr. Lin Yi-hsiung held a hunger strike, successfully pressuring the ruling and opposition parties into passing his constitutional amendment to halve the number of legislators. Yet today the rationale is exactly the opposite. No one has offered a thoughtful solution. It is hard not to suspect partisan political calculations. No one appears interested in a constitutional amendment to ensure lasting peace and stability for Taiwan as a whole.
Another proposal for a constitutional amendment involves changing the Legislative Yuan electoral system, from the current Separated Two-Vote System to a German-style Compensatory Two-Vote System. The advantage is that the latter avoids large discrepancies between the political party votes and the number of seats obtained, which can raise questions about political fairness. The German Compensatory Two-Vote System is more complex. But it is more scientific and fair. The Compensatory Two-Vote System yields a result more representative of party constituency than the Separated Two-Vote System. A Separated Two-Vote System may alter the political parties' proportional representation by expelling a member from the party. With a Compensatory Two-Vote System, only the original district's political constituency can decide his or her fate. Among the several proposals for constitutional amendments, the Compensatory Two-Vote System has the greatest political justification.
Conisider the constitutional amendment lowering the voting age. This is controversial. Currently the age of majority is 20 years old. It is difficult to explain why some citizens have the right to vote and participate in political decision-making, yet are legally constrained in their civil and commercial activities. Some issues remain to be considered before amending the Civil Code pertaining to the age of majority.
The above is merely a discussion of the political legitimacy of some of the proposed constitutional amendments. Assuming constitutional process is followed, one must also consider political costs and political repercussions. The current constitutional threshold is very high. That means that if any constitutional issue is highly controversial, it simply will not pass. In terms of constitutional principles, a high degree of political consensus should be required for passage. Only then can one amend a nation's basic law according to constitutional procedures. This is entirely consistent with the ideals of deliberative democracy. As we can see, proposals to adopt the cabinet system and increase the number of legislators are not politically realistic, They would merely invite political turmoil. Calculating the political effects of lowering the voting age is not easy. It is not obvious who its supporters are. The likelihood it will meet the threshold is low. A constitutional amendment to adopt a Compensatory Two-Vote System is more worthy of consideration. But it will require support from both the blue and green parties to pass.
The above discussion shows what sort of understanding anyone on Taiwan involved in amending the constitution must have. To be successful. any party that proposes a constitutional amendment must seek political consensus rather than political struggle. Yet the political parties that are determined to amend the constitution hold precisely the opposite view. That means any political party that proposes a constitutional amendment during election season is probably doing so out of malice. Any proposed constitutional amendment is likely to be stillborn. Proposing it will merely make trouble.