Two hot and controversial topics made the headlines this week: Constitutional reform to change Taiwan’s governance from a semi-presidential to a parliamentary system, and the longstanding issue of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) assets. Welcome to this week’s issue of the Insider.
== CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM AND KMT PARTY ASSETS
CHU SET TO ASSUME KMT CHAIRMANSHIP: New Taipei Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) was the sole contender in the KMT chairman election after all the other aspirants dropped their bids and is set to become the next KMT chairman. Chu has said he will not run in the presidential election in 2016.
CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM DISCUSSION: Parties and politicians across the political spectrum have engaged in serious discussions about constitutional reform, most notably a change from the current semi-presidential to a parliamentary system. Positions and comments:
Eric Chu (New Taipei Mayor): Supports parliamentary system; the president could be selected by a direct poll or indirectly by legislators. Denies that his initiative is aimed at blocking the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) road to the presidency, as a parliamentary system is not likely to be implemented before 2020.
Wu Den-yih (Vice President): Constitutional reform requires a high degree of consensus with a high threshold. “It is imperative not to have political calculations in the back of your mind when you discuss constitutional reform.”
Jason Hu (outgoing Taichung Mayor): Removing the semi-presidential system simply because most people are not satisfied with the incumbent president’s performance is probably not a good choice. Taiwan should “take it slow.”
Wang Jin-pyng (Legislative Speaker): Inter-party consensus will be crucial for constitutional reform. Changing the system before 2016 — or even by 2020 — is not feasible.
Hau Lung-bin (outgoing Taipei Mayor): Supports the proposed constitutional amendment and a parliamentary system.
Tsai Ing-wen (Chairperson): Highlights the importance of consensus and proposes a national affairs conference to gather politicians, academics and civilian representatives for discussion. Back in May, however, she did pointed out that constitutional reform should involve parliamentary reform, including increasing legislative seats, improving parliamentary representation and lowering the referendum threshold.
William Lai (Tainan Mayor): Does not have a preference between the two systems; warned that complementary measures and designs are required for a healthy parliamentary system.
An alliance of civic groups called for the KMT and the DPP to engage in substantial reform rather than pay lip service, demanding the parties establish a timetable for constitutional reform. The Taiwan Citizen Union (TCU, 公民連線) favored the top-up system (mixed-member proportional representation, MMP) for legislative structure format, lowering the voting age to 18 and a lower threshold for party at-large seats. It also recommended shelving discussion on the political system (semi-presidential/parliamentary), which was later criticized by DPP lawmakers.
Lee Teng-hui (former president): Supports a switch to parliamentary system, comments that were interpreted as showing support for Eric Chu. The former president later softened his position, saying that all proposals should be thoroughly deliberated. He still regards a parliamentary system as a better solution.
Hsu Hsin-liang (former DPP chairman): Supported the current semi-presidential system; argues that a parliamentary system is not likely to succeed in Taiwan.
DPP RENEWS NATIONAL CONFERENCE PROPOSAL: As a response to Chu’s proposal for a parliamentary system, DPP Chairperson Tsai on Saturday renewed her proposal for a national affairs conference, saying that the first half of next year would be the best time for such a meeting on constitutional reform.
Presidential spokesperson Ma Wei-kuo (馬瑋國) said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) welcomed the proposal and proposed to meet Tsai in the Presidential Office. Tsai responded that a meeting between the two would be “meaningless” because constitutional reform requires dialogue between all the people, adding that she would visit party leaders to garner support. Chu said he would not rule out any solution to help the country resolve the political stalemate.
PARTY ASSETS FIRST: Chu’s initiative for constitutional reform, opposing politicians and observers said, could be an attempt to shift the public focus away from the KMT’s reform, which could be a thornier issue for Chu once he assumes chairmanship. The DPP urged Chu to deal with the KMT’s party assets by fulfilling a promise made by former KMT chairman Ma to return illegal assets to the government and show his political will to support the political party act, which has been stalled in the legislature for years due to KMT blocking efforts.
CONSTITUTION COMMITTEE ESTABLISHED: In light of heated discussion on constitutional reform, the Legislative Yuan placed the proposal for a constitution committee on the agenda on Monday and is likely to pass the proposal on Friday. If set up, the committee will be the first constitutional amendment group in the legislature since 2004.
== ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS
LATEST ON CHEN SHUI-BIAN PAROLE: The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) on Tuesday established a panel of medical experts, consisting of seven experts picked by former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) family and eight from Taichung Veterans’ General Hospital, to determine if Chen’s condition is subject to a medical parole. The panel is scheduled to hold a meeting on Monday.
Taiwan Northern Society and other civic groups have pledged to support a hunger strike proposed by former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), who said she would stage a hunger strike on Dec. 28 if Chen was not released by that time, and called for a hunger strike relay.
Chen’s son, Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), on Wednesday refuted a report by Next Magazine saying that Chen Shui-bian had described himself as a “sinner” and a “useless person” and begged for forgiveness in a letter to President Ma. Chen Jr. said his father’s letter only expressed his views on the KMT’s electoral losses and did not beg for forgiveness.
KMT BEHIND TING HSIN? Citing KMT lawmaker Alex Tsai (蔡正元), Next Magazine reported that KMT Deputy Secretary-General Lin Teh-jui (林德瑞) had called KMT Central Standing Committee member Lee Te-wei (李德維), a confidant of KMT Taipei mayoral candidate Sean Lien (連勝文), and asked Lien not to single out Ting Hsin, the food manufacturing giant in the center of recent food safety crisis, when talking about food safety issues.
Rumor has it that Ma had accepted a donation of NT$100 million from Ting Hsin during his re-election campaign, and that Ma and the KMT ensured that Ting hsin could evade responsibility in the scandal for so long. Political pundit Clara Chou (周玉蔻) said on Thursday that sources had told her that Ma had accepted a donation of NT$200 million. The Presidential Office denies Ma received donations from the company.
KMT lawmaker Hsieh Kuo-liang (謝國樑) also told a radio interview that the Presidential Office appeared to have been hesitant in handling Ting Hsin because of the political donations it was said to have received.
COUNCIL SPEAKER ELECTIONS: City and county council speaker elections are becoming the focus of political parties after the nine-in-one elections. The DPP, hoping to ride on the momentum in the historic victory on Nov. 29, has asked its local councilors to support party candidates in the polls or else face expulsion. The DPP is eyeing speaker posts in five of the six special municipalities.
LEGISLATIVE BY-ELECTIONS HEAT UP: The KMT announced it will forgo a primary process and determine candidates in the five legislative by-elections in February next year via direct recruitment of “appropriate aspirants.”
The DPP has named three of the five candidates: Taichung City Councilor Huang Kuo-shu (黃國書) in Taichung; former DPP lawmaker Tang Huo-sheng (湯火聖) in Nantou County; and Changhua County Councilor Chen Su-yueh (陳素月) in Changhua County, deputy secretary-general Hung Yao-fu (洪耀福) said. The candidate for Pingtung County will be determined by a public opinion poll and pit former Taipei City Councilor Chuang Jui-hsiung (莊瑞雄) against Huang Chao-chan (黃昭展).
PRESIDENTIAL/LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS COMBINED? The Central Election Commission (CEC) said it has begun consulting all political parties on the possibility of combining the presidential election and the legislative elections in 2016. A decision is likely to be made by March next year. The two elections were held concurrently in 2012. Election laws stipulate that the legislative elections should be held before Jan. 21 next year, 10 days before the term of current legislators expires on Jan. 31, and the presidential election should be held before April 19 next year (Ma’s presidential term ends on May 20). All major political parties said they have not reached a consensus on the issue, but the DPP expressed concerns about an extended “caretaker period.”
PROTESTS DURING CHINESE OFFICIAL’S VISIT: Association of Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS) Chairman Chen Deming (陳德銘) finished his 8-day visit on Tuesday. Chen avoided making political comments during the trip but was “welcomed” everywhere he went by Falun Gong protesters and pro-independence groups.
APPENDECTOMY PROJECT UP AND RUNNING: The Appendectomy Project, a civic initiative that aims to recall several legislators who are deemed “incompetent,” achieved some success when it collected 59,898 signatures in a second-phase petition drive to recall KMT lawmaker Alex Tsai. This should be enough to send the recall proposal into the final phase — a referendum in Tsai’s constituency. The project has also targeted KMT lawmakers Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇) and Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) and is in the process of collecting signatures. No legislator has ever been recalled.
CAPITAL GAINS TAX: The legislature on Wednesday pushed back the implementation of the so-called “big trader clause” for capital gains tax for three years — from next year to 2018. The clause is part of the income tax law under which individual investors who sell more than NT$1 billion in local shares annually have to pay either a 15 percent tax on stock gains or an extra 0.1 percent tax on transactions in excess of the threshold. According to the Ministry of Finance, only 1,243 individual players would meet the threshold and 47 percent currently pay income taxes of less than NT$25,000 a year, accounting for a tiny 5 percent of gains.
EASING NATURALIZATION: Restrictions on naturalization could be relaxed considerably after a draft amendment to the Nationality Act passed an initial screening by a legislative committee on Wednesday, opening up for the first time the possibility of dual nationality for some foreign immigrants to Taiwan. The biggest change in the proposed amendment would allow, pending government “recommendation,” foreign professionals in certain fields to forego the cumbersome process of proving the loss of their original nationality when immigrating, a step that is currently required for all foreigners seeking to naturalize as Taiwanese (Republic of China) citizens.
TAIWAN-AUSTRIA TAXATION PACT: Trade and investment between Taiwan and Austria are expected to benefit from a double taxation avoidance agreement signed earlier this year that will take effect next year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday.
== MILITARY & SECURITY
RETIRED OFFICER GETS 15 YEARS FOR SPYING: The Supreme Court sentenced retired naval officer Chang Chih-hsin (張祉鑫) to 15 years in prison on Monday for spying for China. Chang was found to have taken money from Chinese intelligence agents in 2010 in exchange for helping Beijing recruit officers and pry military secrets from Taiwan.
ALLEGED REPORTER SPY NOT INDICTED: Citing lack of evidence, prosecutors decided on Tuesday not to press charges against Kuo Mei-lan (郭玫蘭), a former journalist at the Central News Agency who was suspected of collecting intelligence for Beijing.
US-TAIWAN INTELLIGENCE COOPERATION: A study published by the U.S.-based 2049 Project Institute urges the White House to improve U.S. intelligence ties to Taiwan and to support the nation’s indigenous submarine program.
FRIGATES SALE: U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday signed into law a piece of legislation authorizing the sale of up to four Perry-class frigates to Taiwan.
TWELVE CHARGED OVER KAOHSIUNG BLASTS: Public prosecutors on Thursday charged 12 people, including the head of LCY Chemical Corp (李長榮化工), over a series of gas pipeline explosions in Greater Kaohsiung on July 31 and Aug. 1 that left 32 dead and more than 300 people injured.
The Taiwan Insider is a weekly feature prepared by the Thinking Taiwan Foundation’s Chris Wang and staff members. Comments? Leads? You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.