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Cablegate: National Assembly Approves Constitutional Reforms:

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. 2004 TAIPEI 2662

B. TAIPEI 2066
C. TAIPEI 2337

1. Summary. Taiwan's ad hoc National Assembly (NA)
overwhelmingly approved a constitutional revision package
June 7 with far-reaching implications for Taiwan's political
party system. This completes a process begun in August 2004
to modify the Legislative Yuan (LY) and change the rules for
altering the constitution. The revisions over time will
likely marginalize small, often one-issue, political parties,
encouraging the growth of a two-party political system and a
more stable and moderate public policy arena. As passage of
the revision package became increasingly assured over the
last few days, President Chen began to suggest once again a
"second stage" of constitutional revisions, though he has
been careful to define these as government efficiency, labor
and human rights and not the highly sensitive issues of name
change and a new constitution that he proposed in the course
of his presidential election campaign. End Summary.

2. The ad hoc NA passed by 84 percent vote a far-reaching
constitutional revision package on Tuesday, June 7. The
ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the main
opposition Kuomintang party (KMT), which won 83 percent of
the vote in the May 14 NA election, succeeded in holding
their "troops" in line, with every single DPP and KMT
delegate voting in favor of the reform package.

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3. The NA was "ad hoc" because it had only one task: to
ratify a constitutional revision package passed by the
Legislative Yuan (LY) last August (Ref A). The revisions
will create a one-legislator-per-district legislative system
(vice the current complex multiple-legislators-per- district
system). It will also halve the number of LY seats from 225
to 113, extend the LY term to four years, and make future
legislative elections concurrent with presidential elections.
Finally, the reform package permanently abolishes the NA,
leaving Taiwan with a unicameral legislature. Any future
constitutional amendments must now be proposed by
three-fourths of the LY and approved by island-wide
referendum, raising the threshold for constitutional
amendments. A majority of all eligible voters must ratify
the proposed amendment in a referendum.

An Angry Minority

4. The NA opened on May 30 with considerable discord. A
group of Democratic Action Alliance delegates publicly
shredded their NA delegate credentials, and resigned in
protest over the reform package, particularly the halving of
LY seats. All the while, the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU)
delegation of 21 chanted the slogan &oppose voting for the
package, rewrite the Constitution, rectify the national
title, save Taiwan.8

5. In a day-long session on June 6 in which political
parties stated their positions, TSU and PFP lambasted the
constitutional revision package, though for very different
reasons. TSU delegates charged that considering the
constitutional amendments as a package without debating the
individual provisions goes against all democratic principles.
They also lamented that the referendum provision will make
it more difficult to amend the constitution. PFP delegates,
on the other hand, warned that the referendum provision will
pave the way for the ruling DPP to push for constitutional
changes and for name change. They castigated DPP and KMT for
working together to "ruin the constitution." Having won just
13 per cent of the popular vote on May 14, however, the two
parties were in no position to block ratification of the

To the Mountain: Imposing Discipline, Leading "Troops"
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. In response to reports that some of their delegates
planned to jump ship and vote against the package, DPP and
KMT rushed to fill the breach, imposing strict party
discipline on their delegates and dispatching party leaders
to Sun Yatsen Hall on top of Yangming Mountain to "lead the
troops." President Chen Shui-bian personally met with the
127 DPP delegates on May 29 to press for their unanimous
support for the DPP campaign platform in support of the
constitutional reforms. DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang
announced that he and Presidential Office Secretary General
Yu Shyi-kun would "accompany" the party delegation throughout
the sitting to ensure all members toed the party line. KMT
Chair Lien Chan announced he would go up the mountain at 1:00
p.m., an hour before the scheduled vote, to "assume command"
(duzhen) of KMT "troops." The party assigned one central
party official to oversee every seven or eight deputies and
to quickly replace anyone who absented or defied the party
line during balloting.

7. Both parties announced harsh measures to ensure party
discipline, including the quick replacement of any of their
delegates who voted against the party's campaign pledge of
support for the reforms. Finally, the two parties utilized
their three-fourths majority to establish a two-round voting
system and ensure that NA rules required all delegates to
write their names on their ballots. When the Central
Election Commission (CEC) announced that it could approve
replacement NA delegates in "just 15 minutes" and set up a
desk just outside the assembly hall to quickly process papers
for replacement deputies, passage of the revision package
became a fait accompli.

The Writing on the Wall

8. Recognizing the inevitable, some members of the TSU and
PFP began to speak publicly of the possibility of greater
cooperation, even merger (hebing), with their respective
coalition partners, DPP and KMT. On May 29, the day before
the NA session began, several TSU and PFP legislators made
public comments to this effect, eliciting harsh condemnation
from TSU and PFP hardliners on the evening political talk

Constitutional Reform "Second Stage"

9. In the final days before the vote, as passage of the
constitutional revision package became assured, President
Chen began to speak for the first time in nearly six months
of further -- what he termed a "second stage" --
constitutional revisions. He and other DPP leaders, however,
have been careful to frame this second stage as consisting of
improvements in government efficiency, labor and human
rights. They have publicly assured that it will not involve
either of the sensitive issues Chen raised during his
election -- name change and a new Taiwan constitution. In
the long run, the real impediment to such changes is the twin
threshholds any constitutional amendment must cross --
support by three-quarters of the LY and then by half of all
eligible voters.

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