Washington International Law Journal


French constitutional practices suggest that cohabitation between the president and the prime minister, where the latter is the leader of the opposition majority in parliament, creates a workable governmental relationship. Taiwan’s constitutional practice indicates, however, that a minority government, although it does not command the majority in parliament, may nevertheless survive if the system of semipresidentialism is flawed. Instead of having the flexibility to change the government whenever it loses the confidence of parliament, minority governments under semipresidentialism in Taiwan exhibit all the rigidity created by gridlock between the executive and the legislature. This gridlock is caused by fixed terms and dual legitimacies as found in pure presidentialism. A constitution that adopts the semi-presidential system must contain two essential features: if a stalemate needs to be unlocked, the president must have power, properly restricted, to initiate dissolution of parliament, and the president must respect the results of parliamentary elections, whether they be for or against his political interests. To avoid a stalemate between the executive and the legislature, the Taiwanese constitution must be amended to include these features. Because the gridlock prevents normal cooperation between the executive and the legislature, including the passage of necessary proposals for constitutional amendments in Taiwan, the assumption, that the prime minister may fall and change, but the president, under semi-presidentialisms, will serve out a fixed term, should be abandoned. Instead of serving out a fixed term, the president may want to appeal to the electorate through plebiscites for a vote of confidence on his important political agenda, including constitutional amendments to cure the design flaws in the constitution. As a short term and an immediate step to resolve the stalemate, the president should reach a political understanding with the opposition in parliament to go forward with proposals to amend the constitution and correct design defects. A successful return of referendum will allow the president to stay in office and dissolve the parliament under the amended constitution. A negative return will mean that the president should resign to allow a new presidential election before the term is up. The possibility of resignation is a heretofore under-appreciated way, under semi-presidentialism, to break the gridlock between the executive and the legislature. Contrary to conventional opinion, cohabitation is a desirable way to prevent governmental standstill. In this sense, Taiwan’s failure to come up with a functional semi-presidential government derives not so much from the inherent defects of this regime type, as from the institutional and cultural environment in which it operates.

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