Monday, December 8, 2014

Amend the Constitution. Do Not Destroy It.

Amend the Constitution. Do Not Destroy It.
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
December 9, 2014

Executive Summary: In 1997, the Republic of China Constitution was amended for the fourth time. This newspaper published a series of 58 articles entitled, "Amend the Constitution. Do Not Destroy It.” Today all manner of calls for constitutional amendments are being heard. Clearly the constitution has been undermined by the past seven constitutional amendments. Today we reiterate our long held position. "Amend the Constitution. Do Not Destroy It.”

Full Text Below:

In 1997, the Republic of China Constitution was amended for the fourth time. This newspaper published a series of 58 articles entitled, "Amend the Constitution. Do Not Destroy It.” Today all manner of calls for constitutional amendments are being heard. Clearly the constitution has been undermined by the past seven constitutional amendments. Today we reiterate our long held position. "Amend the Constitution. Do Not Destroy It.”

This newspaper originally advocated a cabinet system. Between 1991 and 2004, the Constitution was amended seven times. Those demanding the amendments claimed they were based on the French Fifth Republic’s “dual leadership system." This newspaper has consistently advocated four principles during these seven constitutional amendment processes. One. Presidents must be elected by an absolute majority. Two. Authority must correspond with responsibility. Three. The Legislative Yuan must retain the right to approve nominees for premier. Four. Depending on whether the president and premier belong to the same political party, executive power must automatically revert to the Premier. The above four principles are the four pillars of the French Fifth Republic’s system. The seven amendments to our constitution were touted as a replication of the French system. In fact, they destroyed these four pillars. This failed attempt at replication led to our current disaster.

These amendments created confusion in the institutional framework for authority and responsibility. The main reason was Taiwan's unique political character. The meaning of the constitution has long remained unclear. Who knows when it will be clarified? Space is limited. Therefore we will confine ourselves to only two of these unclear issues. One. National identity remains divided. Some support "one China, different interpretations." Others support "backdoor listing." Taiwan independence elements go so far as to say “Except for the electoral system, I do not recognize the constitution." As a result, the constitution gets no respect, and the constitutional amendment process becomes a political battleground. Two. Playing fast and loose with the constitution is a fundamental breach of the democratic process. Currently some advocate changing the "presidential system" to a "cabinet system." Note how the so-called "dual-leadership system" has morphed into a "presidential system" in the real world? This is a distortion of the political culture. Yet when the cabinet system is adopted, the green camp demands back room political deals and resorts to forcible occupations of the podium. This rides roughshod over the spirit of majority rule. Therefore what difference would it make if we adopted the cabinet system?

Therefore when calls for constitutional amendments are renewed, three things must be understood. One. What are the the pros and cons of the current system? What defects are buried in its structure? What scourges will the amendment process let loose? Two. What advantages if any, would a new Constitution offer? What disadvantages? We must not make things worse. Three. Seven constitutional amendment processes turned into power struggles. The current constitutional amendment process also shows signs of turning into a political struggle. For example, the KMT advocates the “dual leadership system." Some even advocate a cabinet system. The DPP originally advocated a cabinet system. Now it advocates a presidential system. Tsai Ing-wen would only touch on the issue of "mixed-member proportional representation, parallel voting." The past seven constitutional amendment processes have taught us a lesson. The constitutional amendment process is an opportunity for waging political struggles. The constitutional amendment process is not easy. It must not be undertaken lightly.

Consider first the pros and cons of the current system. Taiwan has been torn asunder by disagreements over cross-Strait relations and reunification vs. independence. Presidential elections have become defacto referenda. They have shown that a Taiwan First mindset has had a powerful impact on democracy and cross-Strait relations. This is precisely what a cabinet system finds difficult to cope with. Authority and responsibility remain unclear. As long as the President appoints a majority party legislative leader as premier, the result is likely to be executive power automatically reverting to the premier, and a "cabinet system style dual leadership system." Add to this calls to eliminate back room political deals and return to majority rule. Some even think the dual leadership system need not be eliminated. They think all that is needed is the amending of the constitution and improvements in its implementation.

Consider the political calculations behind the constitutional amendment process. The advantage of the cabinet system is its flexibility. The flipside is that political currents are changeable, and cabinets lack longevity. This is confirmed by the painful experience of Japan. Furthermore, in most cabinet systems the Premier is the Chief Executive, therefore also the head of state. Britain, Japan, Thailand, and the British Commonwealth all have hereditary monarchs as figureheads. Therefore they are more stable. If Taiwan wants a cabinet system, will it also have a president? How would such a system be established? Could a president legally and realistically be relegated to a figurehead? People on Taiwan remain divided on the question of national identity. Suppose the the president supports Taiwan independence while the cabinet opposes Taiwan independence? How will they rule? Taiwan has essentially adopted a presidential system. Changing the role of the president requires more than merely changing some constitutional provisions.

In particular, under the current constitution the executive power and the elected legislature are distinct from each other. This has become an important firewall against political corruption. Years of corruption cases have shown us that campaign contributions can easily be used to bribe Chief Executives. The cabinet system links elections, political contributions, administrative power, and political bribery. This could lead to intolerable violations of government ethics.

Some advocate increasing the number of legislators and  "mixed-member proportional representation. with parallel voting." Such calls are commonplace. But the political spectrum for elected representatives on Taiwan has long been indistinguishable from the political spectrum for public policy. Candidates invariably fall somewhere on the reunification vs. independence, blue vs. green political policy spectrum. The New Party was followed by the PFP. The TAIP was followed by the TSU, then by the Taiwan Citizen Union. Do these distinctions further constitutional interests or not? Furthermore, if the number of legislators is increased, voting district must be shrunk. if smaller voting districts elect legislators who become cabinet ministers, will these legislators become cabinet leaders, or obedient puppets?

Finally, we must clarify the relationship between the parties in this political struggle. Is the motive long-term stability and constitutional justice? Or are constitutional amendment processes merely opportunities to engage in political struggle? The nation has endured seven constitutional amendments in 13 years. Do we really need to relive the nightmare of constitutional amendments designed to destroy the constitution?

2014.12.09 02:54 am










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