After the dramatic local elections last week, political opinion makers from both the KMT and DPP sides are turning their attention to the issue of constitutional reform and systems of governance.
Taiwan’s current system of governance is outlined by the Republic of China constitution and its amendments. The constitution came into effect in 1947 and was meant to be used throughout mainland China and Taiwan, which was nominally ruled by the KMT-controlled Republic of China regime. In 1949, martial law suspended the constitution and gave Chiang Kai-shek extra powers as president.
In 1991 after the Wild Lily Student Movement demanded constitutional reforms, a series of amendments eventually gave birth to the system we have today. Originally, the premier was the highest executive officer of the state, and the legislature was given oversight and power to approve the premier’s appointment. However, subsequent changes through the 1990s gave the president more actual power, by allowing for direct elections of the president, and giving the president power to appoint the premier without legislative approval.
In addition, the system to elect the legislature have also been changed, and the legislature’s size was reduced by about half in 2004. (See more about Taiwan’s electoral system here.)
During the Sunflower Movement this March, one of the demands of the students occupying the legislature floor was to initiate a “Citizen’s Constitutional Congress” on issues of separation of powers within the government. Critics of the current system point to the lack of checks and balances between the president, the premier, and the members of parliament as a major problem. For example, neither the president nor premier has veto powers, yet the president can force legislators’ hands through party mechanisms as the party chairman.
Since the elections on November 29th in which the KMT lost 9 of the 15 local commissioner posts, both KMT and DPP politicians and commentators have called on both camps to push for reforms. Former DPP legislator and long time constitutional activist Lin Cho-shui (林濁水) and former New Party (a pro-unification party) legislator Yao Li-ming (姚立明) held a joint press conference, urging constitutional amendments towards a parliamentary system. Several KMT legislators, as well as civic groups, have also proposed parliamentary reforms. Under this system, the premier will be held responsible to the legislature, as the legislature will have to approve the premier’s appointment.
Speaker of the legislature Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) was more reserved, saying that the process to amend the constitution will be long and difficult. Currently, three-quarters of legislators must first pass any amendments, and then a national public referendum must ratify the amendment, with at least a 50% voter turnout.
(Feature photo of the first page in the official copy of the Republic of China Constitution.)