China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 18, 2016
Executive Summary: If Ms. Tsai clearly distinguishes between her roles as president and chairman, if she clearly separates her duties of president and chairman, if she adheres strictly to the law, cross-Strait official interaction is possible. President Tsai's priority must be to sort out the relationship between party and government. The government is the government. The party is the party. She must use both to achieve the best results. This is the art of politics. Can she succeed? That is up to her.
Full Text Below:
The Presidential Office “Policy Coordination Committee” will convene in the evening after work in order to avoid objections that it is unconstitutional. But we have to ask, if something is unconstitutional during working hours, does it suddenly become constitutional after working hours?
President Tsai and the Lin Chuan cabinet have been beset by internal and external problems since inauguration. The president's reforms have backfired and are now in limbo. The cabinet has lost control of command and communications. Local power brokers rule, doing as they wish. Public support for the two has plummeted. President Tsai wants a coordination mechanism for the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan, the DPP, the DPP think tank, and for central and local governments. She hopes to integrate the party with the government, the executive with the legislative, even at the local level, in order to ensure smooth governance. Her swift action has raised concerns that the party is no longer distinct from the government, and that the president now wields unconstitutional authority. Even Hsu Chong-li, the president's own nominee for Judicial Yuan president, warned that the president's committee "warrants closer examination”, and pressured President Tsai to make changes.
Actually, for the President to convene such meetings is not without precedent. The Chen era nine-man group and the Ma era five-man group also provoked controversy. Clearly the seventh amendment to the Constitution has led to a clash between government operations and the constitutional framework. The president is directly elected by the people and must answer to them. He or she must assume responsibility for the conduct of government affairs. But the Constitution also stipulates that the premier is the chief executive. In theory, the president may not interfere in the administration of affairs other than diplomacy, defense, and cross-Strait relations. Confusion of authority and responsibility has forced the president to rely on personal influence to implement government policy.
The Policy Coordination Committee established by President Tsai is even more constitutionally questionable, due to its wider scope. President Tsai has included the premier, the chief convener of the ruling party, the secretary-general of the ruling party, the head of the DPP think tank, and even the ruling party county chiefs and city mayors on her committee. The president has in effect personally assumed control over the executive branch, the legislative branch, even party affairs and local affairs. This already undermines checks and balances between the executive and the legislature, and rides roughshod over local government autonomy.
Meeting after normal office hours does nothing to reduce constitutional controversy. The reason is simple. The problem lies in the constitutional status of the president and members of the committee. It has nothing to do with working hours. Every political office within the political system has its own unique status, requiring a particular pattern of political conduct. This is true for the president, for the premier, for the chief party convener, for county chiefs, for city mayors, and for think tank heads. How can constitutional checks and balances work if the president tells the premier and the Legislative Yuan which bills to pass? Is the Republic of China still a nation governed by a constitution, or not? No wonder Hsu Chong-li was taken aback.
However, a solution is available. The DPP is the ruling party. It controls over half the seats in the legislature. It controls over half the county and municipal governments. If it wishes to, a DPP coordination mechanism would enjoy far greater legitimacy. DPP legislators, DPP county chiefs, and DPP city mayors, are all members of the Democratic Progressive Party. Naturally they must obey DPP resolutions and participate in DPP policy coordination. The premier is appointed by the president. Even if the premier himself is not a DPP member, his participation in a DPP policy meeting is required. If President Tsai, in her capacity as DPP Chairman, held a similar Policy Coordination Committee meeting within the confines of the Democratic Progressive Party or the DPP think tank, she could avoid constitutional controversy. The DPP is a private sector entity. It wields no government authority. Its resolutions are neither law nor executive orders. Its activities can be regarded as mere coordination, and need not provoke constitutional concerns.
President Tsai must distinguish between her role as president and her role as party chairman. She must diligently distinguish party from government. She must prevent the party from prevailing over the government. In particular she must avoid the impression that the party is ruling the nation. The president is a public official, responsible to the constitution and the people as a whole. Her words and deeds must conform to the constitution and to the law. Policies promoted in her capacity as president must comply with the constitutional framework. As chairman of the DPP, she must be responsible for all DPP members. Their words and deeds must also comply with the Constitution. When conflicts between her two identities arise, Ms. Tsai must remind herself which is which. If she is president, she must consider the interests of the nation as a whole. She must not obey the party at the expense of the constitutional order. In her capacity as president, the nature of her relationship is that of “government vs. opposition party” and “Presidential Office vs. Executive Yuan and Legislative Yuan” In her capacity as party chairman, the nature of her relationship is that of “ruling party vs. opposition party”. The former relationship is one of listening and respect. The latter relationship is one of partisan rivalry.
As for cross-Strait relations, the separation of party and government also facilitates the resolution of impasses. President Tsai must abide by the Constitution and the law. Therefore she has repeatedly declared that cross-Strait relations must be handled in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic of China and the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area. But the DPP adheres to its Taiwan Independence Party Platform and advocates Taiwan independence. Therefore the Mainland remains skeptical about the DPP government. This makes the restoration of cross-Strait official relations difficult.
If Ms. Tsai clearly distinguishes between her roles as president and chairman, if she clearly separates her duties of president and chairman, if she adheres strictly to the law, cross-Strait official interaction is possible. President Tsai's priority must be to sort out the relationship between party and government. The government is the government. The party is the party. She must use both to achieve the best results.
This is the art of politics. Can she succeed? That is up to her.