The Provisional Constitution of the Republic of China was drawn up in March 1912 and formed the basic government document of the Republic of China until 1928. It provided a Western-style parliamentary system headed by the weak president. However, the system was quickly usurped when Song Jiaoren, who as leader of the KMT was to become prime minister following the party's victory in the 1913 elections, was assassinated under the orders of President Yuan Shikai. Yuan regularly flouted the elected assembly and assumed dictorial powers. Upon his death, China disintegrated into warlordism and the Beiyang Government operating under the Constitution remained in the hands of various military leaders.
The Kuomintang under Chiang Kai-shek established control over much of China by 1928. The Nationalist Government promulgated the Provisional Constitution of the Political Tutelage Period in 1931. Under this document, the government operated under a one-party system with supreme power held by the National Congress of the Kuomintang and effective power held by the Central Executive Committee of the Kuomintang. In Leninist fashion, it permitted a system of dual party-state committees to form the basis of government. The KMT intended this Constitution to remain in effective until the country had been pacified and the people sufficiently "educated" to participate in democratic government.
The current Constitution traces its origins to the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War when the impending outbreak of the Chinese Civil War pressured Chiang Kai-shek into enacting a democratic Constitution that would put an end to KMT party rule. The Chinese Communists sought a coalition, made of one-third Nationalists, one-third Communists, and one-third of members from other parties, to form a coalition government that would draft the new Constitution. However, Chiang Kai-shek refused to relinquish to hold on power and insisted on having the Nationalist Government draft the Constitution and then holding nation-wide elections in which the Communists would be permitted to participate. Unable to resolve the impasse, the KMT-drafted Constitution was adopted by the National Assembly on December 25, 1946, promulgated by the National Government on January 1, 1947, and went into effect on December 25, 1947. The Constitution was seen as the third and final stage of Kuomintang reconstruction of China. The Communists, though invited to the convention that drafted it, boycotted and declared after the ratification that not only would it not recognize the ROC constitution, but all bills passed by the Nationalist administration would be disregarded as well. Zhou Enlai challenged the legitimacy of the National Assembly in 1947 by accusing KMT hand-picked the members of the National Assembly 10 years earlier and thus could not have legal representativity of the Chinese people.
On April 18, 1948, the National Assembly added to the Constitution the "Temporary Provisions Effective During the Period of Communist Rebellion." These articles greatly enhanced the power of the president and abolished the two term limit for the president and the vice president. In 1954, the Judicial Yuan ruled that the delegates elected to the National Assembly and Legislative Yuan in 1947 would remain in office until new elections could be held in Mainland China which had come under the control of the Communist Party of China in 1949. This judicial ruling allowed the Kuomintang to rule unchallenged in Taiwan until the 1990s. In 1991, these members were ordered to resign by a subsequent Judicial Yuan ruling.
In the 1970s, supplemental elections began to be held for the Legislative Yuan. Although these were for a limited number of seats, they did allow for the transition to a more open political system.
On May 27, 1992 several other amendments were passed (known as the "Second Revision"), most notably that allowing the direct election of the President of the Republic of China, Governor of Taiwan Province, and municipal mayors. Ten new amendments to replace the eighteen amendments of the First and Second Revisions were passed on July 28, 1994. The amendments passed on July 18, 1997 streamlined the Taiwan Provincial Government and granted the Legislative Yuan powers of impeachment. The constitution was subsequently revised in 1999 and 2000, with the former revision being declared void the same year by the Council of Grand Justices. A further revision of the constitution happened in 2005 which disbanded the National Assembly, reformed the Legislative Yuan, and provided for future constitutional change to be ratified by referendum.
Passing an amendment to the ROC constitution now requires an unusually broad political consensus, which includes approval from three-fourths of the quorum of members of the Legislative Yuan. This quorum requires at least three-fourths of all members of the Legislature. After passing the Legislature, the amendments needs ratification by at least fifty percent of all eligible voters of the ROC irrespective of voter turnout.
All amendments have been consolidated into a single text of twelve articles, maintained as a separate part of the Constitution.
While both symbolic and legal arguments have been used to discredit the application the ROC Constitution in Taiwan, the document gained more legitimacy among independence supporters throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s due to democratization and it is now accepted as the basic law of Taiwan by all of the major parties. However, there are proposals being floated, particularly by supporters of Taiwan independence and the supporters of Taiwan localization movement, to replace the current Constitution with a document drafted by the Taiwanese constituencies in Taiwan.
In 2003, President Chen Shui-bian proposed holding a referendum in 2006 for implementing an entirely new constitution on May 20, 2008 to coincide with the inauguration of the 12th-term president of the ROC. Proponents of such a move, namely the pan-green coalition, argue that the current Constitution endorses a specific ideology (i.e., the Three Principles of the People), which is only precedented in Communist countries; in addition, they argue that a more "efficient" government is needed to cope with changing realities. Some proponents support replacing the five branch structure outlined by the Three Principles of the People with a three branch government. Others cite the current deadlock between the executive and legislative branches and support replacing the presidential system with a parliamentary system. Furthermore, the current Constitution explicitly states before the amendments implemented on Taiwan, "To meet the requisites of the nation prior to national unification...", in direct opposition to the pan-green position that Taiwan must remain separated from the mainland. In response, the pan-blue coalition dropped its opposition to non-constitutional referendums and offered to consider through going constitutional reforms. A referendum law was passed in October 2003, but this law sets very high hurdles against implementing constitutional changes by referendums.
The proposal to implement an entirely new constitution met with strong opposition from the People's Republic of China and great unease from the United States, both of which feared the proposal to rewrite the constitution to be a veiled effort to achieve Taiwan independence, as it would sever a legal link to Mainland China, and to circumvent Chen's original Four Noes and One Without pledge. In December 2003, the United States announced its opposition to any referendum that would tend to move Taiwan toward independence, a statement that was widely seen as being directed at Chen's constitutional proposals.
In response, the Pan-Blue Coalition attempted to argue that a new constitution and constitutional referendums were unnecessary and that the inefficiencies in the ROC Constitution could be approved through the normal legislative process.
In his May 20, 2004 inaugural address, Chen called for a "Constitutional Reform Committee" to be formed by "members of the ruling party and the opposition parties, as well as legal experts, academic scholars and representatives from all fields and spanning all social classes" to decide on the proper reforms. He promised that the new Constitution would not change the issue of sovereignty and territory. This proposal went nowhere due to lack of cooperation from the opposition Pan-Blue.
The current President Ma Ying-jeou has stated that constitutional reform is not a priority for his government.