Opposition wary as Chen implies desire to quash legislature reform

By Crystal Hsu
Published May 27th 2004 in Taiwan News

The campaign to shake up the Legislature through constitutional reform may prove little more than a political stunt as President Chen Shui-bian reportedly signaled a desire to halt the venture during a recent meeting with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng.

Branding Chen a hypocrite, opposition lawmakers yesterday urged proponents of legislative reform, notably former Democratic Progressive Party chairman Lin I-hsiung, to pressure Chen to fulfill one of his key campaign pledges.

The DPP legislative caucus, seeking to defend the president, insisted that Chen never reneged on the issue and attributed the information gap to Wang's misreading of Chen's intentions.

The ruling party, however, proposed limiting the ongoing constitutional reform to procedural amendments and saving discussions on downsizing the Legislature for 2006 when Chen intends to write the Constitution anew.

A lack of consensus promises to plunge the Legislature into inactivity tomorrow when the body is due to take up proposals to cut its seats from 225 to 113, alter rules on electing its members and extend lawmakers' tenure from three to four years.

Lawmakers from the main opposition Kuomintang told a morning news conference that the meeting Friday may not accomplish anything as Chen recently advised Wang to reconsider the wisdom of halving the Legislature.

The president allegedly told Wang he preferred a 150-seat lawmaking body as the DPP originally envisioned. Prior to the March 20 presidential election, however, the party agreed to a more drastic cut, bowing to pressure from Lin and other critics of the Legislature.

"Now that the election is over, the KMT and the People First Party appear to be the only supporters of the campaign to trim the Legislature" KMT lawmaker Huang Teh-fu said.

All caucuses except the Union of Independent Legislators signed an agreement in March to halve legislative seats, alter rules in electing lawmakers and reserve at least 30 percent of the body for female representatives, beginning in early 2008.

"Where is Lin who staged sit-in demonstrations outside the Legislature and the KMT headquarters to press for legislative reform?" Huang added.

Independent lawmakers demanded more cross-party consultations right before the Legislature planned to call final readings of the proposed reform. The motion allows the caucuses four months to iron out their differences before the Legislature acts on the measure.

Independent lawmakers have voiced reservation about the single-seat district rules, saying the design would foster pork-barrel politics. The Taiwan Solidarity Union has echoed the concern, as the planned reform would make it more difficult for independents and small parties to win legislative seats.

KMT Legislator Cho Po-yuan said Chen risked jeopardizing his credibility if he failed to help downsize the Legislature, a cause that has drawn support from the opposition alliance.

Cashing in on their numerical edge, KMT and PFP lawmakers placed the issue on the legislative agenda for tomorrow, apparently with a view to embarrassing the Chen administration.

Liao Wan-ju, another KMT lawmaker, challenged Lin to come forward and comment on Chen's inconsistency which she said constituted blatant cheating of votes.

"Over the years, Chen has vowed to reform this and reform that," Liao said. "Now there is an opportunity for him to realize an important plank of the DPP platform. He must not step back and disappoint his supporters."

The DPP, however, insisted that Chen remains committed to legislative reform but said he favors a more judicious approach to the matter.

DPP policy official Liang Wen-chieh said that his party considered it adequate to scrap the National Assembly and shift the power to ratify constitutional revisions to the people this time around.

The proposals to downsize the Legislature and other reforms can wait until 2006 when the government is slated to redraw the nation's political system, as Chen promised in his inaugural speech, Liang added.

Any other reforms may prove to be futile, he said, citing as an example the situation where lawmakers win their seats through proportional representation.

"There may not be any need for such lawmakers if the public concludes that a presidential political system suits the country better," Liang said.

DPP legislative whip Tsai Huang-liang echoed the theme and blamed the speaker for misinterpreting Chen's intentions.

Tsai said his colleagues would vote for measures to make the Legislature more efficient as long as Wang is able to remove resistance by any caucuses.

DPP legislative leader Lee Chun-yee dismissed the opposition's activism as bogus. In the absence of consensus, the Legislature may not act on bills for which the four-month negotiation period has yet to expire, he noted.