Taiwanese reforms face easy run as assembly convenes

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 06 June, 2005, 12:00am

All sides of Taiwan's political spectrum will express their views on the island's constitutional reform package when the ad hoc National Assembly starts its two-day convention today.

Among the issues will be the controversial referendum issue that has so angered Beijing.

Although the island's lesser political parties oppose the amendment package, the assembly should have no problem approving it tomorrow, given the support of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and opposition Kuomintang.

The DPP holds 127 seats in the 300-seat National Assembly, which was elected on May 14 with the sole purpose of voting on five constitutional amendment bills passed by the legislature last August. As the KMT holds 117 seats, the combined votes of the two parties will exceed the required threshold of 225 votes needed to pass the package.

There are also five votes from three tiny parties that also support the bills.

Under the reform bills, starting in 2008 the number of seats in the Legislative Yuan will be halved to 113 from 225, while its tenure will be extended to four from three years.

The 'multiple constituencies, one vote' system will become a 'single constituency, two votes' system. This means one legislator will be elected from one electoral district, which in the existing system has as many as 10 seats up for grabs.

This will largely reduce the chances of aspirants from smaller parties being elected in the future and has been opposed by lesser parties, including the hardline independence Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU), pro-unification People First Party (PFP) and hardline pro-unification New Party.

But most sensitive is the incorporation of referendums into the constitution to decide on any future constitutional changes. Beijing fears this could lead to a public vote on independence for the island, but Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian has argued that referendums would only be held on constitutional amendments made by the legislature after the National Assembly was abolished.

The TSU does not oppose the incorporation of referendums into the constitution and its spiritual leader, former president Lee Teng-hui, yesterday even called for a new constitution allowing a referendum on changing the island's official title from the Republic of China to Taiwan. However, the PFP believes the referendum bill is too risky as it might pave the way for pro-independence forces to change the island's status quo.

'But with just 51 seats, there is not much the opposing side can do, especially when both the DPP and KMT have vowed to dismiss those who do not follow the parties' line,' said Emile Sheng Chih-jen, a professor of political science at Soochow University.

After the convention, the assembly - formerly an all-powerful body - will be abolished.

Formed in 1948 on the mainland, the body - once dubbed the 'eternal assembly' - has witnessed the rise and fall of KMT rule on the mainland and the island over the past six decades. It lost the power to elect presidents after Taiwan allowed direct election of the island's leader in 1996, and it was technically disbanded in 2000 before being revived for the constitutional-reform package.