Taiwan’s debate on constitutional reform continues into this week, with more commentators and pundits offering their perspectives. Right now, the debate centers around whether Taiwan should adopt a pure parliamentary system to replace its current brand of semi-presidential system.
Taiwan’s current power arrangement consists of a president who is elected directly by the electorate every four years, and a legislature elected at the same time. However, unlike the American system where the president convenes his own cabinet, Taiwan’s president appoints a premier, or prime minister, who is responsible for most of the actual governing. The premier is not an elected position.
Also unlike the American system, Taiwan’s president does not have the power to veto bills passed by the legislature.
Although these constitutional restraints theoretically gives the president relatively few powers, past presidents have circumvented the problem by assuming the chairmen of their respective parties. Taiwan’s political parties are more similar to European revolutionary parties, where the party chairman holds considerable sway with party members and legislators.
Since the November local elections, KMT’s Eric Chu, the mayor of New Taipei City, has been the most vocal for reforming the system. Chu, who is also the assumed KMT chairman after President Ma Ying-jeou resigned the post, has publicly called to change the system towards a parliamentary system. In essence, the premier will be appointed by the majority of the legislature, and the president will cease to have any power to govern. Surprisingly, former president Lee Teng-hui has also announced his preference for the parliamentary system. KMT legislators, meanwhile, have proposed to form a constitutional reform committee, the first step in the process to amend the constitution.
There is speculation now on the KMT’s position and the sudden interest in this issue. Conventional wisdom in Taiwan says that the KMT, with its local mobilizing ability and network for bribing voters, do better in legislative elections than any other party. The KMT historically has always held majority, either on its own or with its coalition partners. If Taiwan had been a parliamentary party, commentators say, the DPP would have never governed.
Therefore, as the KMT faces a possible defeat in the 2016 presidential elections, many believe the KMT prefers to give the legislature more power for its own benefit. Moreover, legal scholar and prominent Sunflower Movement figure Huang Kuo-chang said disapprovingly of parliamentary systems, since they would have “legitimized President Ma’s influencing the legislators as party chairman.”
For her part, DPP chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen has not publicly taken a side, but merely called for more deliberation. She has not accepted an invitation by President Ma to discuss the issue at the Presidential Office.
In Taiwan, any constitutional amendment must be approved by a national referendum, which requires over 50% voter turnout, a requirement most parties agree to be difficult to achieve.
(Feature photo of former Taichung mayor Jason Hu and New Taipei mayor Eric Chu, on Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)