Monthly Archives: June 2005

The political freak show resumes

Politics was back to normal in Taiwan yesterday, with plenty of politicians trying to embarrass themselves. It’s hard to know which one is the most impressive:

  • Legislator Li Ao (a man who can make other Taiwanese politicians look moderate) tries to flog a dead horse by claiming that President Chen Shui-bian was trying to assassinate his VP Annette Lu last year. It seems a mysterious man gave him a top secret CIA report which confirms this. How the CIA came across this information is unclear … partly because he refused to hand over the report to anyone apart from Annette Lu.
  • Wang Yu-cheng – a Taipei City councillor – faked a video claiming that a mortuary was reselling funeral offerings to nearby restaurants. This little scandal has been going on for a few days, and it seems to have reached its conclusion with him being kicked out of his party, with the promise of litigation to follow. Was the fact that his friend owns a competing mortuary a factor? (more at ESWN, and INDIAC)
  • An excellent bit of political grandstanding by ‘Aboriginal’ legislator May Chin – who is visiting the (in)famous Yasukuni Shrine in Japan to demand that the names of Taiwanese Aboriginals are removed. This is a reaction to the idiotic visit of the TSU Chairman Shu Chin-chiang to the Shrine to honour the Taiwanese war dead a couple of months ago (which, in turn, was a reaction to Lien Chan’s trip to China).
  • Three new members were added to the cabinet today. Two of them failed to get elected to the legislature last December. If the cabinet is made up of people who aren’t competent enough to become legislators, then this country is in deep trouble.

Personal Note: I’m off on my holidays for a fortnight … so things will be quiet here for a while.

Constitutional reform succeeds

Today is a good day for Taiwanese politics – the National Assembly has finally approved the Constitutional amendments that were proposed last year. The vote went as expected – with 249 out of the 300 votes being for the amendments, comfortably over the 75% threshold required. Amazingly, this is the 7th set of amendments to be made to the constitution in the last 15 years (with more promised in 2008) – which goes to show how difficult it is to transform yourself from a corrupt dictatorship of 1 billion people to an open democracy of 23 million.

The major effects of this round of amendments are:

  • The Legislature (the ‘parliament’ of Taiwan) has been reformed and reduced in size. This will take effect after the next Legislative elections (in just under 3 years). Hopefully, this will mean more legislation and less fist-fights from 2008 on.
  • The National Assembly has been consigned to the dustbin of history. While it may have been an important body for governing China, it has never been anything other than an undemocratic joke on Taiwan. It’s passing will not be mourned.
  • Taiwan now has a rational process for future changes to the constitution. However, it is worth noting that the new rules probably make it harder to pass constitutional reform in Taiwan than anywhere else in the world.

There are bound to be a few complaints from the smaller parties over the next few days (in particular they have the right to ask for a 2nd round of voting – which will be refused), but they can now be happily ignored.

What happens next?

For DPP politicians, this isn’t the end … it’s just the beginning. Chen Shuibian has based his presidency around reforming the constitution – and he’s already got plenty of plans for what needs to be changed next:

That is “an epoch-making change,” President Chen was quoted as saying, “and that paves the way for the second phase of constitutional reform.”

The president will make a statement when the amendment is adopted, Yu said.

Under the new reform, Yu said, President Chen wishes to make amendments to the constitution on the separation of powers, system of government, legislation procedure, provincial government of Taiwan, voting age, conscription, rights of labor, and rights of the aborigines.

In particular, President Chen wants to establish a better system of government, Yu said. A presidential system of government is preferred.

The existing five-power government may have to shed the two powers of control and examination. The provincial government is likely to be abolished and the voting age lowered to 18.

There will be a change in the existing conscription system, while rights of labor and the aborigines will be written into the constitution.

When the new phase of reform is completed, Yu cited President Chen as saying, the nation will be able to have a constitution that is up to date, tailor-made and practical by 2008.

Of course, the chances of all these reforms being done by 2008 are practically zero. A president can dream though …

The KMT ‘Generation Game’

One of the overriding factors in the race for the Chairmanship of the KMT has been the influence of current chairman Lien Chan. A race which should have been a simple head-to-head between Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou and Legislature speaker Wang Jin-pyng has instead revolved around Lien Chan: will he run again? will he endorse one of the candidates? how will Wang & Ma show their ‘loyalty’ to Lien?

You could put this down to simple megalomania on the part of Lien Chan: if he’s going to give up his position of power, then he wants to go out as the centre of attention – with as much praise and adulation from the KMT faithful as possible. However, a more concrete reason is a nervousness about generational change inside the KMT.

Lien Chan will be the last KMT Chairman who can remember life in mainland China under the KMT; as he and his mainland colleagues slowly lose their grip on the KMT, the question is “Will the next generation have the same commitment to the concept of China?”. The clearest example of this generational friction was seen 2 days ago when Ma Ying-jeou’s father pleaded with his son not to stand:

“If Mayor Ma will not give up his candidacy, I think I will commit suicide,” retired general Ma Ho-ling (馬鶴凌) said in a TV interview yesterday.

If a father can’t trust his son, it’s not surprising that the KMT Chairman is having trouble trusting his successor.

Lien’s plan

So, what could Lien do to ensure his ‘vision’ for the KMT continues? One obvious option is to run again – he’d be almost certain to win in a race against Ma, and could then comfortably control the KMT direction for the next 4 years. The other option is to get a commitment from both candidates to accept his direction for the KMT, and then ensure he retains enough behind-the-scenes control to enfore it.

Yesterday, it looked like Lien was going for the second option:

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) both pledged to follow Lien’s path on cross-strait relations and other issues if elected to replace him in July.

Presenting their views in a forum ordered by Lien that many saw as a prelude to the battle for the party’s top spot, the two KMT vice chairmen ruled out the island’s formal declaration of independence from China, similar to the view expressed by Lien when he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in April.

Today, it’s looking increasingly as though Lien will not run, but that the next KMT chairman will have little ability to make true reforms in the KMT, or to change it’s political direction.

Update: Three excellent essays on the KMT election by johnd here (1 2 3):

But the Kuo Min Tang is not most parties. There’s an enormous weight of history, thousands of years deep, of mostly unedifying precedents imported from across the Straits, that keeps this party awake late into the night howling at the moon.

The ‘rubber stamp’ National Assembly

The National Assembly has finally decided when it will get round to doing what it was elected to do: it will vote on the constitutional amendments next Tuesday. However, if they don’t get the result they want at that time, they might do it all again:

On the other hand, the presidium decided to make it possible for another voting, if the rubber stamps turn unfaithful. Should a serious fault occur in the voting, the presidium would meet to decide on a request for a second voting that is endorsed by at least 30 deputies, a National Assembly spokesman said.

Is this fair? Probably not, but at least it’s constitutional. This just seems to be one more step by the National Assembly to prove what a waste of time and money it is, so justifying it’s own abolition.

Idiot of the day award yesterday went to Annie Lee:

Although Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) presidium member Annie Lee (李安妮) said that the assembly should vote on each article of the amendment package separately, the presidium ruled that the vote should apply to the package as a whole, in accordance with the Statute Governing the Operation of the National Assembly (國大職權行使法).

Annie seems to think that because her Daddy used to run the country, she can happily ignore the rules and decide for herself what the National Assembly should be doing. The role of this assembly has been clearly defined for over 6 months now – trying to change the rules at the last minute just because you don’t like them is illegal, unconstitutional, and downright stupid.