Taiwan becoming Taiwan

National Policy Conference in Taipei

From 23th through 28th December 1996, the Taiwan authorities organized a multi-party conference in Taipei aimed at gaining a broader consensus on the island on Taiwan's future. Some 170 delegates from the KMT, DPP, and New Party met for five days of discussions, and decided:

  1. to continue an active foreign diplomacy,
  2. to streamline the governmental system by starting to dismantle the Provincial Government and National Assembly,
  3. to realign the responsibilities of the President and the Legislative Yuan.

In particular points 2) and 3) will still need to be formalized by the National Assembly in an upcoming session in the first half of 1997.

Continuing international diplomacy

In the first significant development, the Democratic Progressive Party delegates joined the Kuomintang delegates in support of President Lee Teng-hui's policy of seeking to enhance Taiwan's separate diplomatic standing by winning international recognition. The pro-unification New Party, which broke away from the Kuomintang in 1993, walked out of the conference in protest.

According to an AP-Dow Jones News Service report on December 27th, this shows how the old doctrine of China-Taiwan reunification is giving way to a new feeling of Taiwan-for-the-Taiwanese, and to a further marginalization of the pro-unification camp in Taiwanese society.

A joint statement by the Kuomintang and Democratic Progressive Party stated that "...only by pursuing a progressive foreign policy shall we be able to develop relations with the mainland without losing our dignity."

The conference also rejected proposals to end a 47-year-old ban on shipping and airlinks with China, insisting that China must first cease its hostility towards Taiwan. The Conference decided that the relationship between Taiwan and China should be "...based on a framework that guarantees the safety and prosperity of Taiwan."

Discarding the Provincial Government ....

In another significant development, the Conference agreed to start dismantling the Provincial government, by suspending the elections for the Provincial Assembly, which is generally considered to be redundant.

The Provincial Assembly is an outdated anachronism from the late 1940s, when the Kuomintang authorities fled China and occupied Taiwan, which had been under Japanese rule until 1945. The KMT then declared Taiwan a province of China, and instituted a provincial government and assembly.

The democratic opposition parties of the DPP and Taiwan Independence Party (TAIP) have long urged the KMT to discard these references to its shady "Republic of China" past, and progress towards a new status as a fully free and independent Taiwan.

Governor James Soong, a mainlander who until now supported President Lee's reforms, angrily offered his resignation in protest.

... and the National Assembly

Another redundant governmental institution on its way out is the 334-member National Assembly, the largely ceremonial body which until the direct popular elections of March 1996 was responsible for the "election" of the President, a tightly KMT-controlled procedure which over the past 40 years always resulted in the "election" of the KMT candidate.

From the 1940s through the 1980s the Assembly overwhelmingly consisted of old KMT stalwarts elected on the mainland in 1947, and only in the early 1990s the KMT allowed elections for all seats of the National Assembly.

The only remaining function of the National Assembly is approval of amendments of the Constitution, and in the next few months it will be called upon to decided on its own dismantling.

The December 1996 Development Conference decided that elections for the Assembly will be suspended and that the number of seats will be reduced. In the future the members of the Assembly will be appointed by the parties, pro-rata the percentage won by the parties in the elections for the Legislative Yuan, thus avoiding fractious elections, which over the past years have led to much corruption in Taiwan.

The President and the Legislative Yuan

The conference also agreed to a realignment of powers between the President and the increasingly influential Legislative Yuan. The membership of the Legislative Yuan will be increased from the present 164 to 200 or more, and the term of office will be four years instead of the present three years.

The President will in the future have the power to appoint a Premier, and not have to go through a legislative approval procedure. At present the Legislative Yuan is holding up the approval of Mr. Lee's appointment of vice president Lien Chan as prime minister, a move which many in the legislature consider unconstitutional.

The president will also have the power to dissolve the Legislative Yuan, necessitating new elections, but in return the Legislative Yuan will have the power to dismiss the Premier through a no-confidence vote. The Legislative Yuan gained the power of impeachment, which had been held by the largely ineffective Control Yuan.

Furthermore, the Legislative Yuan will be able to audit and investigate government agencies, and will adopt a committee-type hearing system.

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