President's State of the Nation Address:
Both the Administration and the Legislature Can Win
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 9, 2012
Summary: A State of the Nation Address will enable the public to judge whether the president's policies are consistent with the constitution. President Ma should be able to respond constructively. Ruling and opposition party legislators in the halls of parliament must understand the meaning of "affairs of state." They must not dwell on trivialities beneath consideration, or engage in Blue vs. Green partisan bickering. Otherwise, they will be incapable of checking President Ma Ying-jeou's charisma. They will undermine the image of the Legislative Yuan. They will do themselves more harm than good.
Full Text below:
Is the Legislative Yuan about to invite President Ma Ying-jeou to issue a State of the Nation Address? Both the ruling and opposition parties see this is as a good thing. The only question is whether legislators will have the opportunity to "interrogate" him. Will the President be treated like the Premier? Will he be required to respond to interrogation by legislators? The People First Party has proposed a compromise. Representatives from the Legislature will put forth "recommendations" just as the National Assembly did in the past. The President will offer a "consolidated reply." Can the president and the ruling and opposition parties accept such a compromise? That will depend on the success or failure of their negotiations. Before the President can visit the Legislative Yuan and report on the state of the nation, certain constitutional and procedural issues must be considered. The President and the Legislative Yuan may wish to establish an historical precedent. But they must think before acting.
The Presidential Office's initial response was that everything should be in accord with the constitution. It is waiting for the Legislative Yuan to act. According to the Constitution of the Republic of China, as amended, the relevant provisions are quite simple. They involve only one line: "When the Legislative Yuan convenes each year, it must listen to the President's State of the Nation Address." In other words, it is not the duty of the President to report to the Legislative Yuan on the State of the Nation. Its responsibilities to the Legislative Yuan are different from the Executive Yuan's. Reporting to the Legislative Yuan or being interrogated by the Legislative Yuan is a constitutional duty for the Premier and his cabinet. He may not be excused from this duty except under special circumstances. He must first obtain permission from the Legislative Yuan. He may not fudge, evade, or refuse to appear.
Before the National Assembly was abolished, the provisions of the constitution, as amended, were relatively clear. "When the National Assembly convenes, it is required to listen to the President's State of the Nation Address, consult on national affairs, and offer recommendations." Is the president obligated to respond? The constitution, as amended, contains no hard and fast stipulations. But when former President Lee Teng-hui offered a comprehensive response, and responded to the National Assembly, most of the public expressed approval.
After the National Assembly was abolished, its authority was integrated with the authority of the Legislative Yuan. The constitution, as amended, was simplified. But the "Powers of the Legislative Yuan Law" was made more explicit. Procedurally, it went in two directions. One. At least one fourth of the Legislature was required to introduce a bill, after which the rules committee would add it to the agenda. The "National Security Guidelines" would respond to the President's State of the Nation Address. Two. The President would be required to consult with the Legislative Yuan on major national policies, in accordance with his job responsibilities.
Would legislators "interrogate" him? The "Legislative Yuan Duties Enforcement Act" states that once the President makes his State of the Nation Address legislators must question him on any unclear parts of his address. The duration of their questioning, the number of questioners, the order in which they speak, their party affiliation, and other issues would be determined through party caucus consultations. Moreover, the law clearly stipulates that "the foregoing questioning by Legislators, with the consent of the President, will be incorporated into a supplementary report. "
Based on the above constitution and the legal provisions, the President's State of the Nation Address could be issued on his own initiative, or at the behest of others. President Ma is apparently waiting for the Legislative Yuan to make the first move. Will the Legislative Yuan and the President adopt a question and answer format? Actually, this is not up for debate. First, the legislators will ask questions. They will not "interrogate" the President. Secondly, should the comprehensive legislative question and answer session be compiled into a supplementary report? That will depend on whether the President agrees. In other words, whether the legislators will hold a question and answer session will be decided by the Legislative Yuan. But whether the president will respond will be up to him. Also, any question and answer session would be entirely different from an interrogation of the Premier.
After direct presidential elections were instituted. the constitution clearly stipulated that State of the Nation Addresses would be issued. But none have, ever. During former President Chen Shui-bian's term, he considered visiting the Legislative Yuan to issue a State of the Nation Address. But the Blue Camp majority had no intention of granting him this "honor." They added that if the President did come, but refused to be questioned, the session would be meaningless. The legislative caucus would not agree to a visit. The DPP meanwhile, cited the constitution. They insisted that for the President to be subjected to interrogation, it would undermine the Republic of China's constitutional framework.
Times have changed. The ruling and opposition parties have switched places. But the constitution has not changed. Ruling and opposition party legislators are clear about the conditions that must be met before the President can issue a State of the Nation Address. This is probably why DPP legislator Wu Ping-jui suggested inviting the President to issue a State of the Nation Address, but did not demand that the President respond, The legislators have no basis on which to make such a demand. Other DPP legislators who made sarcastic remarks should be ignored.
We look forward to the establishment of a constitutional precedent. We look forward to more mature interaction between the ruling and opposition parties. We look forward to rebuilding the image of the legislature. We look forward to the President visiting the Legislative Yuan and issuing a State of the Nation Address. After all, every four years we hold a presidential election. It consumes enormous human and material resources, and exacts a high cost on society. If we can implement an annual State of the Nation Address, it would underscore the significance of the presidential election. But given current grandstanding during question and answer sessions in the Legislative Yuan, is it difficult to be optimistic about the prospects of a State of the Nation Address.
The Legislative Yuan is the nation's highest elective body. A State of the Nation Address will enable the public to judge whether the president's policies are consistent with the constitution. President Ma should be able to respond constructively. More importantly, it will enable the public to evaluate the president's performance, as well as the performance of legislators. Ruling and opposition party legislators in the halls of parliament must understand the meaning of "affairs of state." They must not dwell on trivialities beneath consideration, or engage in Blue vs. Green partisan bickering. Otherwise, they will be incapable of checking President Ma Ying-jeou's charisma. They will undermine the image of the Legislative Yuan. They will do themselves more harm than good.