Monday, March 18, 2013

Constitutional Perspectives

I was inspired by my friend Yang, who made an amazing Wordle of the Chinese (People's Republic of China) Constitution:


A single image speaks volumes about one-party rule in China and the primacy of the CCP.

I wondered what the U.S. Constitution would look like in contrast:


The biggest word? "States" That's +1 for federalism! The roles of Congress and the President also seem relatively balanced. And this doesn't even include the ten amendments that make up our Bill of Rights or later amendments on abolition and the expansion of suffrage.

Next, check out the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution (link), promulgated in 1947 and the one active on Taiwan today. It places great emphasis on the major organs of government, the yuan. In this context, one can interpret the word yuan 院 to mean "branch" or "body" of government.

In the five-power model advocated by Sun Yat-sen for the new Republic, the national government consisted of the legislature (or legislative yuan 立法院), the executive (executive yuan 行政院) and the judiciary (judicial yuan 司法院) -- the traditional separation of powers in the West. Two additional branches were drawn from Chinese tradition: the body in charge of the Civil Service Examination 考试院; and the Control yuan 监察院, tasked with auditing the other branches, and thus serving as an additional check on the government's power.


As my friend Yang notes, the word "law" features greatly in the ROC constitution. Pretty remarkable! In contrast, the word "party" shows up only in the following instances:
  • 7. All citizens of the Republic of China, irrespective of sex, religion, ethnic origin, class, or party affiliation, shall be equal before the law.
  • 138. The Army, Navy, and Air Force of the nation shall rise above personal, regional, and party affiliations and shall be loyal to the State and love and protect the people.
  • 139. No political party and no individual shall make use of armed forces as an instrument in the struggle for political power.

These three articles focus on non-partisanship: declaring that certain national institutions, such as the armed forces, must transcend politics, and asserting that membership in a party shall not define one's rights in the eyes of the law. Since full democratization in Taiwan, an additional 11 amendments have been added to the ROC constitution, securing citizens' rights and delineating rules for impeachment and new electoral procedures. In these amendments, the only further mention of political parties is as follows:
  • A line on how to apportion seats in the legislature to political parties, according to a revised electoral scheme.
  • Another line stipulating another non-partisanship institution: "Members of the Control Yuan shall be beyond party affiliation and independently exercise their powers and discharge their responsibilities in accordance with the law."
  • A requirement for all parties to abide by democratic principles and play by the rules of the game: "A political party shall be considered unconstitutional if its goals or activities endanger the existence of the Republic of China or the nation's free and democratic constitutional order."

In fact, it would be unconstitutional for a political party to reject democracy and push an agenda that deprives citizens of their rights or advocates for the imposition of authoritarian rule. Intriguing what a constitution says about a country and its values! 

Update 3/20/2013: As Xinhong Wang notes, most of the references to "Party" sit in the preamble of the Constitution, a fawning multi-paragraph account of the Communist Party and its contributions. (i.e. the section of the Constitution that states the purpose of the document and defines a national agenda) It's a none-too-subtle statement about the CCP's role in the life of the nation. In contrast, political parties are not mentioned in the American constitution whatsoever -- they were a later creation -- and only in a constraining role in the ROC constitution.

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