Chen makes new appeal for constitutional change

President urges further reflection on vague definition of territory

President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) declared yesterday that Taiwan's people should choose between either a complete presidential or a full cabinet system of government and affirmed that any future changes to the island country's basic charter could only be achieved with the participation and support of all the people.
Chen issued the call during opening remarks at a seminar sponsored by the governing Democratic Progressive Party on "The Difficulties and Rebirth of Taiwan's Constitutional Politics: The Choice between a Presidential System and a Cabinet System" held at the Taipei International Convention Center.
The seminar was the third and final session of a series of public forums on the DPP's draft constitutional reform package, the first two of which dealt with the relationship between central and local governments and the role of referendum.
DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun stated that, after consultations with DPP lawmakers, the package is slated for review by the party's Central Executive Committee October 4 and, if approved, will be sent to the DPP Legislative caucus for submission to the Legislative Yuan.
Referring to the partisan bitter disputes and deadlocks since his DPP administration ended nearly 55 years of Kuomintang authoritarian rule in May 2000, Chen related that Taiwan "is not an exception or an isolated case" and that similar dehabiliating political struggles have occurred in other emerging new democracies such as the Philippines and South Korea.
As in other new democracies around the world, the president said, Taiwan is still learning and searching for new solutions that best meet the country's and the people's needs in terms of government systems.
The president stated that future constitutional re-engineering in Taiwan "must break through old shackles" and avoid adopting piecemeal measures that attempt to "cure headaches or footaches."
Instead, Chen, who has called for the hastening of a new constitutional framework that would fit Taiwan's needs for several years, said that the future re-engineering "must have a complete plan and complementary measures."
"If a cabinet system is to be adopted, it should be a comprehensive cabinet system in which the government is established by the leader of the majority party in the congress and in which there is no need for a directly elected president," Chen said.
Alternatively, Chen stated that "if a presidential system is chosen, it must be a complete presidential system in which the president is not simply the national head of state but is simultaneously the highest administrative executive and possesses the power to veto bills passed by the congress."
Chen related that choices over the constitutional system and system of government offer the most severe challenges for new democracies because they involve questions of the redistribution of political interests and power and directly affect the concrete interests of the people.
The president related that Taiwan experienced seven sets of constitutional amendments since 1991 and that each change involved intense inter-party contention and that most changes were made to respond to the political needs of one man or one problem at a single moment in time.
Chen said the result was a convoluted and often mutually contradictory constitutional system that defied all definition and was difficult to implement.
However, since the incorporation of the mechanism of ratification of future constitutional changes by national citizen referendum, President Chen yesterday stressed that any new changes in the country's Constitution, including the choice of the governmental system, would succeed without the participation and support of the people.
Hence, Chen said that from now on any constitutional change would be "a movement of all the people in which the people are the main actors" even if political parties can promote changes.
Away with dogma
In addition, the president emphasized that "no one can block the birth of a new Constitution if it supported by the people."
Moreover, Chen stressed that the "fundamental issue of transitional justice involved the legitimacy and rational rebuilding" of Taiwan's constitution order.
"The past Constitution was left over from the authoritarian period and did not have the identity or agreement of the people," said the president.
Also, Chen observed that the framework had "ideological dogmas that are entirely incompatible with our democratic transition."
As an example, the president cited the requirement of Article Four that the "the territory of the Republic of China according to its traditional boundaries shall not be altered except by resolution of the National Assembly."
Chen related that this ambiguous article left room for controversy over whether the Republic of China's territory should be based on the former Ching or even Tang dynasties or whether Mongolia or the People's Republic of China, "both of which are independent countries and members of the United Nations with no overlapping sovereignty with Taiwan," were included in the Republic of China's "existing national boundaries."
Affirming his position that "Taiwan is our country and has only 36,000 square kilometers" and stating that this definition was supported by the vast majority of Taiwan's 23 million people and does not include the People's Republic of China or Mongolia, President Chen said yesterday this constitutional quirk was "a major issue in our democratic transition" and merited "deep reflection and discussion internally."
Chen said that the citizenry needed to consider "whether we should seriously consider taking necessary measures to deal with the expectations and demands of transitional justice when the legitimacy and rationality of the Constitution depart from or run counter to reality."