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In political system debate, South Africa's model worth a look: Sachs

In political system debate, South Africa's model worth a look: Sachs

Taipei, May 4 (CNA) As Taiwan debates whether it should maintain its current semi-presidential system or switch to a parliamentary one, South Africa's experience could shed light on the issue, according to a former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. "Taiwan has had some years of experience now of multiparty democracy, and I would imagine the Taiwanese people would weigh the pluses and minuses," Albie Sachs told CNA in an interview in Taipei on Saturday, when asked how Taiwan should approach the debate. If there is a feeling that the separate election of the parliament and the president "has encouraged too much authoritarian rule, independently of which party is in power, then it will be worthwhile considering giving parliament a stronger say over the choice of the president," Sachs said. There could be one election to select the legislative body, and the legislative body chooses who the head of state should be, said the 80-year-old, a respected judge who played a key role in drafting South Africa's new Constitution in the post-apartheid era. But the parliament should not be too volatile -- a situation seen in some countries where parliamentary majorities and minorities are constantly in flux, he said. "You need some steadiness. You need some security for the stability of the country," Sachs said. "It's certainly worth looking at the South African experience to see if anything can be drawn from that." South Africa's president is elected by the parliament and answers to the parliament. The president has a fixed term and is the head of both the state and the government. When the new constitution was designed, Sachs said there was at first strong support for a presidential system, and it would have helped the African National Congress because Nelson Mandela was very popular. "But we rejected that," Sachs said, because not everybody would be like Mandela and because they worried there could be "too much authoritarian rule" given the traditions of the British colonial governor, African traditional leaders who worked with the apartheid regime, and the underground armed resistance.
All three had top-down command structures, and "you put the three traditions together and authoritarianism could be very powerful in our country," he said. Meanwhile, Sachs said, politicians should also take note of recent developments in Sri Lanka. Incumbent Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena succeeded former President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January. During his election campaign, Sirisena pledged to reduce the powers of the presidency and reform a system that has been heavily criticized as autocratic. "The Sri Lankan experience, if it goes through, would be proof that in fact people voted for him because they believed he would do that," Sachs said. "It would actually make him more successful as a president and more likely to win the next election for reducing his own powers." Taiwan currently uses the semi-presidential system, and the country's president names the premier without having to seek the consent of lawmakers. Taiwanese lawmakers have been pushing the idea of amending the constitution in several areas, among them modifying the current system under which power is shared by a popularly elected head of state and his or her appointed premier. The calls for reform come amid complaints that Taiwan's presidents do not have to answer to the Legislature while the premier bears the brunt of strong opposition to major policies by resigning. Sachs, the winner of the first Tang Prize for Rule of Law, was in Taiwan on a five-day visit. He gave talks on transitional justice and how South Africa began its path toward democracy, and attended the launch of a new book that is about the stories of the five 2014 Tang Prize winners. (By Christie Chen)


Updated : 2021-09-25 18:05 GMT+08:00