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2004-05-20 14:32:19

    Taipei, May 20 (CNA) President Chen Shui-bian said Thursday in his inauguration speech that it is not appropriate to include the issues of sovereignty, territory and the subject of unification/ independence in the scope of his proposed constitutional reform.

    The remarks were interpreted as attempt to allay concerns about his earlier promises that a new constitution would be written through a referendum by 2006 and then put into practice in 2008. The promises have raised serious concerns in the United States and mainland China that Chen is aiming to steer the island down the road toward independence.

    With the world closely watching his inaugural speech, Chen said that the proposed constitutional reform project "must not be monopolized by one person or by a single political party, nor should it be undertaken merely for the short-term."

    Chen noted that there are many problems in the nation's current Constitution that need to be tackled, amongst which the more immediate and obvious include whether to have a three-branch or five-branch separation of power, whether to adopt a presidential or parliamentary system of government, whether the president should be elected by a relative majority or an absolute majority, reform of the national legislature and relevant articles, the role of the National Assembly and its retainment versus abolishment, and whether to suspend or abolish the provincial government. "This will be a project of grand scale that is certain to have significant impact," the president said.

    Chen said that to avoid repeating the same mistakes by past administrations -- six rounds of constitutional amendments in 10 years time, he will invite members of the ruling and the opposition parties, as well as legal experts, academic scholars and representatives from all fields and spanning all social classes, to collaborate in forming a Constitutional Reform Committee.

    The president said he will seek to "generate the highest level of social consensus on the scope and procedure of the constitutional reform, all of which are to be open to public scrutiny."

    Chen expressed the hope by the time he steps down in 2008, he will "hand to the people of Taiwan and to our country a new version of Constitution -- one that is timely, relevant and viable," saying that this is "my historic responsibility and my commitment to the people."

    The president also said he realizes consensus has yet to be reached in Taiwan on the issues of national sovereignty, territory, and unification versus independence. For this reason, Chen said, he will "explicitly propose that these particular issues be excluded from the present constitutional re-engineering project."

    President Chen stressed that the planned constitutional reform will move forward in line with the rules set out in the existing Constitution and its amendments.

    Accordingly, after the passage by the Legislative Yuan, members of the first and also the last ad hoc National Assembly will be elected and charged with the task of endorsing the constitutional reform proposal as passed by the Legislature, abolishing the National Assembly, and incorporating into the Constitution the people's right to referendum on future constitutional revision. "By doing so, we hope to lay a solid foundation for the long-term development of our constitutional democracy, and the people's right to referendum on legislative proposals for constitutional revision," the president said.

(By Lilian Wu)


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