It is difficult to know if President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), as the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson, was pleased following the DPP National Congress last Sunday.
She might have been unhappy because news about the congress was drowned out by the clashes at National Taiwan University, but pleased because discussion about pardoning former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has died down, which is probably a big burden off her shoulders.
As party chair, she hosted the congress, but the push to pardon Chen soon turned it into a discussion about that.
The question was how to deal with the situation. As Tsai is no slouch, she proposed constitutional reform in an attempt to turn the media spotlight back on the congress, while suppressing the pardon question.
Why else would she be in such a rush to propose something as major as constitutional reform?
Constitutional reform requires a qualified majority of three quarters of the legislature.
Considering that the pan-blue camp has requested a constitutional interpretation in connection to the handling of the Forward-looking Infrastructure Development Program, how likely is it that a qualified majority would be reached?
Moreover, if there is to be constitutional reform, there is no need for judicial reform, as any judicial issues could be addressed through the constitutional reform process.
It puts into question what the judicial reform move was all about.
Chen’s proposal at a Taiwan Research Fund forum that a parliamentary system be introduced by 2024 and that the presidency be made into a figurehead might have affected Tsai.
One thing is certain: When it comes to Chen, Tsai is at a loss as to what to do.
Prior to the party congress, the Presidential Office spokesperson and “high-level party leaders” were in a rush to suggest conspiracies and plots, be it explicitly or indirectly, implying that they were not in control.
Whether to grant Chen a pardon is indeed up to the president, but with most party representatives signing the call to issue a pardon, they were putting pressure on Tsai. The Presidential Office’s response that the DPP does not direct the government did not improve matters.
As support for a pardon seemed to grow, was Tsai’s constitutional amendment proposal on target?
Tsai’s statement that “what the nation wants is not internal strife” — a metaphor for the calls to pardon Chen — revealed that, while Tsai might have naked designs on power, she does not have the high ground of authority.
Tsai’s intent to put the issue on ice at the party’s central executive committee was set into play by using the decisionmaking power of the party apparatus to call a break. Enough representatives left, allowing the issue to be postponed due to the lack of a quorum.
Tsai relied on the party rather than on her authority as chairperson to end the controversy over Chen’s pardon.
On the other hand, Chen, while powerless, has authority. After all, he commanded the support of most DPP representatives.
Moreover, at the aborted “Sing! China: Shanghai-Taipei Music Festival,” students held signs with his past slogan, “I am Taiwanese, one country on each side [of the Taiwan Strait].”
The effort to pardon Chen forced Tsai to abandon her policy to maintain the “status quo” and push for constitutional reform.
The push to pardon Chen was not a failure. Constitutional reform is not easy, and Tsai must be monitored to make sure that she delivers on her constitutional reform promise.