Monthly Archives: September 2005

Legislative chaos – the rematch

All-in female wrestlingLast week, it was the KMT & PFP parties causing chaos in the legislature by ripping up speeches and blocking the podium, but it’s good to see that the DPP & TSU have just as much respect for the dignity of the legislature as they returned the favour yesterday:

While the pan-blue alliance was retreating to their seats, a skirmish broke out between Hung and DPP Legislator Yu Jan-daw (余政道), who was trying to grab her megaphone.

KMT Legislator Pai Tien-chih (白添枝) managed to take it back, but DPP Sandy Chuang (莊和子) attacked KMT Legislator Liao Wan-ju (廖婉汝).

Chuang pulled Liao’s hair and knocked off her spectacles, while Liao responded with a hard push.

Chuang was later taken to the nearby National Taiwan University Hospital, but KMT lawmakers blasted Chuang for faking injuries. Determined not to let Chuang get all the media attention, Liao also went to the legislature’s medical center for treatment.

Both camps then accused the other of starting the scuffle, and the KMT accused Yu of causing the mayhem under the influence of alcohol. Yu, however, denied the allegation and threatened to file a lawsuit against Legislator Kuo Su-chun (郭素春), who Yu said hit him on the head during the disturbance.

What’s the cause of the chaos?

Although many people think the Taiwanese parliament doesn’t need a reason for a good punch-up, there are reasons (albeit not very good ones) for them. Last week, the fights were all started by the pan-Blues trying to block Premier Frank Hsieh from giving a speech … this week it was the pan-Greens trying to block pan-Blue legislation. There are three major pieces of legislation that have got up the noses of the Greens:

  • The NCC bill. Currently all regulation of the media is done by the ‘Government Information Office’ (GIO) – a body which dates back to the (not-so-distant) past when the Government took a very active interest in censoring anything vaguely out of line with Government thinking. Everyone is in agreement that this body should be scrapped and replaced with a ‘National Communication Comission’ – but the debate (if you can call it that) is about the makeup of this body. The pan-Greens believe that it should be made up of non-partisan experts, while the pan-Blues believe they should be political appointees chosen to reflect the balance of the leigislature.
  • The ‘cross-strait peace’ bill. The aim of this bill is to set up a body to negotiate with China – a nice idea if it wasn’t for the fact that it is outside the constitutional powers of the Legislature. It is trivial to predict the future of this bill: it will be passed despite the complaints of the pan-Greens, who will then boycott it. It will be judged unconstitutional, but the Blues will continue on regardless and meet with PRC negotiators to come to a totally meaningless agreement.
  • Another March 19th Shooting ‘Truth’ investigation. If this passes, it will have exactly the same result as last years investigation (and similar to the item above). It will be ruled unconstitutional, boycotted by the Greens and come to some meaningless conclusions.

The fact that the DPP & TSU are right to oppose all three of the above proposals shouldn’t detract from the fact that they are behaving like idiots in treating the legislature as a wrestling arena. The sooner politicians in Taiwan realise that they have a functional legislative and judicial system, and that civilized nations use these institutions in preference to their fists, the better.

Monty Python and Taiwan Independence

What has Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian’ got to do with Taiwanese independence? More than you might think … try comparing this news article:

The leader of World United Formosans for Independence said yesterday that he disagrees with the view expressed by the Taiwan Defence Alliance in an advertisement in the Washington Post that Taiwan, like Puerto Rico and Guam, is an autonomous territory of the United States.

Asked to comment on the advertisement placed in the American daily Tuesday, WUFI Chairman Huang Chao-tang, who is also a presidential adviser, stressed that Taiwan belongs to the 23 million people who live on the island.

With this scene from the Life of Brian:

REG: Right. You’re in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Judean People’s Front.
P.F.J.: Yeah…
JUDITH: Splitters.
P.F.J.: Splitters…
FRANCIS: And the Judean Popular People’s Front.
P.F.J.: Yeah. Oh, yeah. Splitters. Splitters…
LORETTA: And the People’s Front of Judea.
P.F.J.: Yeah. Splitters. Splitters…
REG: What?
LORETTA: The People’s Front of Judea. Splitters.
REG: We’re the People’s Front of Judea!
LORETTA: Oh. I thought we were the Popular Front.
REG: People’s Front! C-huh.
FRANCIS: Whatever happened to the Popular Front, Reg?
REG: He’s over there.

In case you were wondering the ‘World United Formosans for Independence’ and the ‘Taiwan Defence Alliance’ should not be confused with pro-formal independence political parties like the Taiwan Solidarity Union (which regularly polls between 5-10% in national elections), the ‘Taiwan Independence Party’ (which gained 0.3% of the vote in the last election), the ‘Peasant Party’ (0.4%) or the ‘Taiwan Number One Party’ (didn’t bother standing).

Further relevant words of wisdom from the Life of Brian can be found:

Legislative chaos continues

We’re a week into the latest session of Taiwan’s legislature – and we still haven’t had the opening speeches yet. The previous session (before the summer) set a record for the smallest number of pieces of legislation passed (and largest number of proposed legislation thrown out), but it seems they’re going for broke this time around and seeing if they can get through a whole session without even officially starting.

The problem seems to be that the pan-Blues in the Legislature just plain don’t like Frank Hsieh, the (pan-Green) premier[*]. Hsieh has been physically blocked from getting to the podium to give his speech – this included the usual farcical fights on the first day, but has since quietened down in to a stalemate where all the legislators are being paid close to half a million NT dollars each a month (over $13,000 USD) to sit around catching up on their reading.

The latest attempt to break the stalemate came from Hsieh – who suggested it be put to a vote whether he should give his report or not:

Hsieh made the new suggestion after lawmakers from the opposition “pan-blue alliance” of the KMT and the People First Party (PFP) twice blocked him from addressing the plenary session of the legislature on his Cabinet’s work agenda and its 2006 budget plan last week by occupying the podium of the legislative chamber.

This wasn’t received well by the pan-Blues who self-righteously (but correctly) pointed out it was his duty to do what they were preventing him from doing:

Noting that Constitution requires the premier deliver an administrative report at the beginning of a new legislative session, Tseng said it’s Hsieh’s official duty and cannot be a topic to be subject to a legislative vote.

The pan-Blues have given a set of demands which they want addressed before they’ll let Hsieh near a microphone:

The “pan-blue alliance” originally proposed earlier two prerequisites for Hsieh to deliver the administrative report — an apology from Hsieh for alleged Kaohsiung mass rapid transit (MRT) system construction scams and the DPP legislative caucus’ consent to the establishment of five legislative committees to look into five alleged corruption cases.

Is there any merit to these demands? In a word: No.

Although there is a good case to be made for Hsieh apologising, it isn’t something that is worth blocking the constitutionally mandated requirements of the Premier and the Legislature over. The fact that they are demanding a committee should be formed to investigate who to blame, while demanding Hsieh apologise before that committee has even started is a minor detail. At least it seems the KMT have now dropped this requirement. Which just leaves the demand for five legislative committees – which betray a fairly basic lack of understanding of the Legislature.

What is the role of the legislature?

There’s a clue in it’s name. The role of the legislature is to pass legislation. Of course, there is often a need to research new legislation, requiring that a legislative committee is set up. However, investigations into corruption are not the job of the legislature.

Taiwan has more branches of government than you can shake a stick at, and there are exactly two which have the constitutionally defined mandate to investigate these matters: The Judicial Yuan, and (oh no, not again) the Control Yuan.

Apart from the fact that you would hope that legislators would have a basic understanding of things like the constitution and the separation of powers between the various branches of government, the current batch of KMT legislators really should know this: just about the only thing the legislature did last year was to set up a committee to investigate the March 19th assassination attempt on Chen Shui-bian. To noones surprise, this committee was found to be unconstitutional and was thus rendered virtually powerless (it didn’t have the right to access confidential information from the police/hospitals, nor could it force anyone to testify).

Of course, if the pan-Blues are sincere in their demands for these instances of corruption to be investigated (and they definitely are cases which need to be investigated), then they should be demanding that the Control Yuan sets up some investigative committees. Unfortunately, the Control Yuan has no members at the moment … because the Legislature has been blocking its nominations for the last 10 months.

So, to sum up: the premier is being blocked from his constitutional duty until he agrees to set up a set of unconstitutional committees to do the job of a branch of government which will be kept in constitutional limbo at least until the premier does the job he is being blocked from. Does that make sense?

Update: Well, Hsieh finally got to give his report on Tuesday, apologised for the Kaohsiung Thai worker riot, and then got into a wonderfully intelligent argument with his predecessor as Kaohsiung mayor Wu Den-yih.

* It’s a classic Taiwanese irony that the pan-Blues are complaining that the Premier is chosen by the President and not by the Legislature. The Legislature used to select the Premier, but that was changed over a decade ago by the KMT in one of their constitutional amendments … because they were worried about a DPP majority in the Legislature (but strangely not worried about a DPP president). Oops.

A new kind of localization

Anyone hoping for a major change in direction for the KMT under new chairman Ma Ying-Jeou will have been disappointed with Ma’s first few weeks, which have continued policies in line with his predecessor Lien Chan (the latest example, a failure to criticize this weeks legislative chaos – claiming it was normal ‘filibustering’ as happens in any democracy). However, it has become clear that Ma’s first priority is to consolidate his power in the KMT – which means deference to Lien, attempts to befriend PFP leader James Soong, and winning some measure of support from Wang Jin-pyng and the KMT legislators (who generally are much closer to Wang than Ma). In this climate, Ma is unlikely to do anything in the short-term that deviates too much from Lien’s policies (as this would be seen as implicit criticism of those policies).

One area that Ma can address though is in one of his strengths – publicity. Lien Chan had almost no charisma, and little understanding of the importance of good public relations, so there is plenty of room for improvement here. Ma has clearly identified the KMTs Achilles heel of being ‘more Chinese than Taiwanese’ (an issue that the DPP has successfully exploited over the last few years), and is doing his best to improve things:

Ma Ying-jeou, new leader of Taiwan’s opposition Kuomintang, has started a campaign to highlight the party’s historic links with the island and reconcile it with those who suffered under decades of repressive KMT rule.

The KMT party headquarters, widely seen as a symbol of its authoritarian past, yesterday became the scene of an unlikely memorial to two heroes of a local Taiwanese nationalist and democracy movement.

On Mr Ma’s orders, the KMT adorned the building with posters commemorating Chiang Wei-shui and Lee Yu-pang, who fought Japanese colonial rule of the island in the first four decades of the last century.

The campaign by Mr Ma – the popular Taipei mayor’s first such move since he won the KMT chairmanship in a landslide election – targets the party’s weak spot. Founded in China a century ago, the KMT established a one-party regime in Taiwan after fleeing to the island upon defeat by the communists in the civil war in 1945.

The KMT leader said Mr Chiang’s and Mr Lee’s early ties to Sun Yat-sen, founding father of the KMT, were proof of the party’s deep roots in Taiwan.

This is a smart move by Ma. Instead of letting the DPP lead the conversation into a simplistic ‘DPP=Taiwanese, KMT=Chinese’ argument, the KMT should be promoting themselves as a Taiwanese party who embrace their Chinese heritage. However, he’s skating close to some uncomfortable truths – apart from the tenuous links described above (there is no doubt that Chiang Wei-shui was a supporter of Sun Yat Sen, but there’s less evidence that the support was reciprocated), there’s another unpleasant fact:

He also apologised for persecution and repression under his party’s dictatorial former rule. Mr Lee was executed in 1952 for allegedly spying for communist China.

Just last month, while emphasising the historical links between the KMT and Taiwan, Ma praised Liao Chin-ping as a supporter of Sun Yat-sen … but he was killed in the KMTs darkest hour on Taiwan (the 2-28 massacre). As Oscar Wilde might have said: To kill one supporter may be regarded as a misfortune; to kill two looks like carelessness.

Ma’s initiative to promote the KMTs historical links to Taiwan is a positive one. However, he’ll have to accept that a lot of that history is not something that the KMT can be proud of.

The return of the silly season

In England, the ‘Silly Season’ is when Parliament is in recess, and so the newspapers need to look for silly stories to replace the normal discussion of political issues. In Taiwan, it starts when the Legislative session starts – because the legislators specialise in silly behaviour.

Thus, it was no real surprise that the first day of the latest session was punctuated by scuffles and water fights. The main item on the agenda, a policy report by Premier Frank Hsieh, didn’t happen because opposition legislators blocked the podium, and one enterprising individual even managed to rip up his speech.

One female KMT lawmaker splashed tea on the sleeves of Foreign Minister Mark Chen’s (陳唐山) suit, as scuffles broke out through the morning.

Unhappy that KMT lawmakers blocked the podium where the premier was scheduled to speak, DPP lawmakers decided to occupy the seat of the legislative speaker and rip up the KMT’s placards in one of the day’s more chaotic episodes.

The KMT lawmakers said they prevented the premier from speaking to draw attention to questionable measures and suspicions of impropriety emerging from recent controversies.

Those of you who despair of the behaviour of their democratically elected representatives will be relieved to know that most of them will be out of a job in under 3 years time when the number of legislators is halved (3 cheers for constitutional reform!).

In the meantime, I’m guessing the KMT will continue to come out on top in these fights: after all, when you’ve got an Olympic Taekwondo medal winner (Huang Chih-hsiung (黃志雄) – Silver medal in Athens) in your team, the odds are stacked in your favour. (There’s plenty more political analysis over at Wandering to Tamshui)

Update: I don’t know quite how it happened, but a BBC article on G.W. Bush’s bathroom habits linked to this article. I guess anyone interested in presidential bowel movements would probably quite enjoy Taiwanese politics, so feel free to stick around if that’s where you’ve come from!

The Ashes

The famous urnCongratulations to Michael Vaughan and the England team – who have just regained the Ashes for the first time since 1987.

England and Australia have battled for the Ashes since before Japan took control of Taiwan in the 19th century, but this series has arguably been the best of all time. With Australia and England acknowledged as the best and second best teams in world cricket, it was always going to be interesting, but it has surpassed everyones expectations. With 2 of the closest ever test matches, a draw which went down to the very last ball, and some amazing individual performance, the final result was in doubt right the way into the final session of the final day of the (total) 25 day contest.

What has this got to do with Taiwanese politics? Well … KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou was born in a British colony, so should appreciate a good cricket match. I’m sure he’d like to extend his congratulations too.

For those of you who have not understood a word of the above: Don’t worry. Normal programming will return soon.

Shoot the winner, praise the loser

Two months ago, Ma Ying-jeou beat Wang Jin-pyng to become the new chairman of the KMT. This weekend there’s an interesting contrast of news articles on the two men involved in that race. On Friday evening, Yahoo! Taiwan released a story on their website that (election winner) Ma Ying-jeou had been assassinated – which came as a bit of a surprise to the man himself:

The general manager of the Internet company, who was in the U.S. when the incident occurred, telephoned Ma to present the company’s deepest apologies.

The company promised to strengthen its internal management in order to avoid similar episode from occurring again in the future.

Ma stated that, since the company has taken steps to announce that it was at fault, he will not pursue the matter further. Ma expressed that the mistake did not cause him any inconvenience. “My mother did not even notice it,” he joked, adding that his bodyguards might have been troubled by it.

Meanwhile, loser Wang Jin-pyng has been the recipient of the sort of puff-piece in the Taipei Times usually reserved for the Greenest of independence supporters:

In addition to calligraphy, Wang is a talented athlete.

He was a senior-high-school champion in the long jump, triple jump, shot put and tennis. He was also captain of his university’s tennis team and won a bronze medal in inter-collegiate tennis competitions when he was in his senior year.

No matter how hectic or onerous things are at the legislature, Wang usually looks serene and calm. He attributes his serenity to inborn temperament.

Fake assassination stories and gratuitous praise for an election loser – who’d expect that in Taiwan?

The Control Yuan budget

As noted before, the Control Yuan doesn’t exist. This hasn’t stopped it auditing charities and government bodies. It also hasn’t stopped it being proposed for a hefty 12% increase in its budget.

The Control Yuan, the nation’s highest watchdog body, has been without members since Feb. 1 because the legislature has refused to approve the nominations submitted by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), but this has not stopped the Executive Yuan from proposing a massive NT$240 million increase for the Control Yuan’s fiscal 2006 budget. According to the central government’s overall budget submitted to the Legislative Yuan for approval, the Control Yuan’s share amounted to NT$2.26 billion, an increase of NT$240 million over fiscal 2005. The proposed budget covers all normal expenditures of the Control Yuan, including salaries for 24 members and staff, administrative expenses and allowances for members to make inspection tours abroad.

The worrying thing about this is that we now have one branch of government which is appointed by no one, answerable to no one, funded by everyone (to the tune of ~NT$100 per person in Taiwan) – and that this situation is likely to continue for the forseeable future. The intransigence of the two sides (the president and the legislature) means there is a good chance that Taiwan will be without a real control yuan until 2007 or 2008 (depending on election results). Unfortunately, both sides probably see this deadlock as politically useful: the DPP see it as an example of the KMTs attempt to block everything they do – and a good argument for their pet project of constitutional reform, while the KMT see it as indicative of the DPPs inability to do the most basic of things right. That the Control Yuan does important work – like impeaching corrupt officials (lucky corruption isn’t a problem in Taiwan then, isn’t it?) – seems to be being overlooked by both parties.

At least the Control Yuan no longer has the ultimate power of impeachment of the president. However, given their cavalier attitude to the constitution and the fact that they still list it as one of their powers, who’s to say what they will or won’t do?