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Taiwan Lawmakers Make Major Changes to Constitution, Eye Beijing's Reaction - 2004-08-23


Taiwanese lawmakers have amended their constitution to change the way the island's lawmakers are elected.

Taiwan's Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng announces the results of Monday's vote to his colleagues, the passage of sweeping changes to Taiwan's constitution. The reforms include a reduction in the number of lawmakers, from 225 to 113, and a re-engineering of how legislators are elected.

The major parties sent out mobilization orders before the vote to ensure that the required three-quarters of lawmakers showed up. In the end, 200 lawmakers voted for the change, with just one vote against and 10 abstentions.

Under the current system, several lawmakers are elected in each voting district, which has allowed people of dubious character to be voted in with only a tiny fraction of the vote.

The changes are an attempt to streamline the legislature, and to reduce corruption among its members. The new system will result in only two members per district.

Although the changes are sweeping, they are not likely to rile Beijing, since they do not involve issues of sovereignty, such as changing the island's name or flag. Beijing considers Taiwan a breakaway province, and is particularly nervous about any move that might be a step toward Taiwan independence. It has warned that it would react to such a move with military force.

China is not the only country warning Taiwan against trying to change its status. Singapore's new prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, warned in a speech to his country's leaders on Sunday that pro-independence Taiwanese are flirting with danger.

"A move by Taiwan toward independence is neither in Singapore's nor the region's interest. If Taiwan goes for independence, Singapore will not recognize it," he says. "In fact, no Asian country will recognize it. Nor will European countries. China will fight."

Mr. Lee said that, unfortunately, on a recent trip he made to Taiwan, he found that "very few Taiwanese leaders" understood this fact.

Some Taiwanese were offended by Mr. Lee's remarks, and suggested that, in protest, the Taipei government cancel any visits by Taiwanese leaders to Singapore.