Monthly Archives: May 2006

10 Years of democracy

By my reckoning, today marks the 10th anniversary of Taiwan’s democracy. On 20th May 1996 Lee Teng-hui gave this speech at his inauguration. The election (two months previously) was the first time that Taiwan’s president had been democratically elected. Of course, there was some democracy before this – there had been increasingly democratic elections for the legislature and the national assembly in the years before it, but this marked the final point when Taiwan could finally call itself a democratic country.

Lee’s speech is hardly a classic, but there’s one interesting aspect that runs through the speech. Number of times China/Chinese mentioned: 44. Numer of times Taiwan mentioned: 21. His emphasis on the election being a victory for Chinese people, his explicit dismissal of Taiwan independence and his focus on China make for interesting reading given what we now know (and many people suspected back then) about his real feelings on the issue. The lady doth protest too much, methinks.
Note: I’m on holiday for 3 weeks from today, so things will be quiet here for a while.

THIS year, it will be different

You must need to have huge reserves of optimism to be a Taiwanese international diplomat. Again and again you find people siding with China against you, but you still keep thinking that things will get better:

Several high-ranking government officials expressed confidence yesterday in Taiwan’s bid to gain entry to the World Heath Organization this year and lambasted China’s continual efforts to foil Taiwan’s attempts to join the world health body.

Speaking at the “2006 Taiwan’s Quest for Participation in the World Health Organization” press conference held at the Government Information Office yesterday, Department of Health Minister Hou Sheng-mou (侯茂) said that due to the imminent global threat of avian flu, based on ethical and humanitarian considerations, many medical professional groups around the world have voiced their support for Taiwan to become part of the WHO.

Here’s a quick recap: Taiwan has tried every year for the last 9 years to become an observer at the World Health Assembly. Each time it’s been blocked by China.

  • Two years ago, with SARS having proved how important international cooperation is for health matters, China blocked Taiwan’s application.
  • One year ago, with Avian Flu starting to raise it’s ugly head, and just after China promised to help Taiwan’s participation in the WHO (at the Hu-Lien meeting), China blocked Taiwan’s application.

Note that, despite the fact that the application is for a ‘health entity’ not a country, Taiwan’s application hasn’t even got as far as a vote yet. And still they’re confident this year …

Of course, it goes without saying that Taiwan should be represented – but then when did common sense (or international health considerations) ever play a part in these sorts of decisions?

Update: On the issue of Taiwan’s international presence, Mad Minerva notes that the recent ‘Failed States Index‘ published by Foreign Policy magazine has come up with a novel way to handle Taiwan’s tricky situation: remove the island from the map completely! At least you can’t be classified as a failed state when you’ve sunk beneath the waves …

Taipei Mayoral Elections: Farce and Democracy

If you want a snapshot of the current status of the two main political parties, you don’t have to look much further than the upcoming election for Mayor of Taipei. Both parties are busy trying to select their candidate for the election later in the year, and boy what a contrast!

The DPP: Chaos Reigns

For a long time, it looked like there would be only one possible candidate: Shen Fu-hsiung (沈富雄). Shen has made no secret of his desire to become mayor for years. Up until a couple of years ago, Shen would have been a shoo-in for the DPP candidacy; he has been the DPPs premier Taipei-based legislator for 4 consecutive elections. However, a falling out with the DPP leadership during the 2004 presidential campaign, and an attempt to find middle ground between the DPP and KMT resulted in a loss of support within the DPP, which ultimately resulted in him losing his seat in the 2004 Legislative elections.

Shen picked up an application form for the DPP candidacy early on, but delayed handing in his application. At the last moment, he announced that he wouldn’t apply:

Shen later told local media that it would be foolish for him to still register for the DPP mayoral primary election when “the entire DPP treats me like an outsider and views me as a nothing,” which showed that previous resistance to his candidacy by DPP members had not been forgotten.

However, you can’t take this at face value, because it comes hot on the heels of Frank Hsieh (who has been under heavy DPP pressure to apply for the job) announcing that he wouldn’t apply, but would be willing to be drafted if noone else applied. Given that Shen received a phone call from DPP Chairman Yu Shyi-kun (游錫堃) before deciding not to apply (and got lavisly praised by Yu for doing so), you’ve got to wonder exactly how much pressure was applied to stop Shen standing.

When it became clear that noone was going to stand for the DPP candidacy DPP Legislator You Ching (尤清) realised he had a chance to sneak in when noone was looking. By picking up an application form and applying right at the last minute You nearly threw a huge spanner into the DPPs machinations. After a very frantic inspection of the form, the DPP managed to find a minor mistake in the application, and (with a huge sigh of relief) threw out the application.

So, after pressurizing a candidate who wanted to stand to stop him, and throwing out the candidacy of another on a technicality, the DPP is left with no candidate. This leaves them free to draft a candidate who has publicly stated that he has no interest in the position. In other words, the DPP are in a complete mess – and their process can be called neither particularly democratic nor progressive.

The KMT: Democracy in action

Meanwhile, the KMT machine is humming along in serene manner. After Ma Ying-jeou explicitly ruled out pulling strings to engineer a KMT nomination for James Soong, the process has been shockingly open. Twelve candidates announced their candidacy – and this was later culled down to the three most popular candidates: Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川), Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌), and Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) . Hau is the highest profile politician of the three: the ex-New Party member, ex-government minister (or DPP ‘collaborator’ to some), Hau has consistently topped opinion polls, and is favourite to win the candidacy. Meanwhile, Yeh is running as ‘mini-Ma’: he was Ma Ying-jeou’s deputy and so is hoping some of Ma’s glamour can rub off on him. Finally, Ting hopes his status as a veteran Legislator will swing things his way.

The three candidates recently had a televised debate to promote their candidacies, and although there have been some accusations of favouritism within the KMT, it’s looking like a fair and open race at the moment. Whoever would have thought that you could make that claim about an internal KMT selection process? Wonders will never cease.
Update: To complete the comparison, I should mention the PFP. Unsurprisingly, Soong is treating this as his personal fiefdom, and even the thought of primaries (i.e. anyone standing against Soong) hasn’t been mentioned. Soong will do what he wants, and expect total support and obedience from his party.

Update II: To add to the DPPs woes, the favourite for DPP candidacy for the Kaohsiung mayoral elections is acting Mayor Yeh Chu-lan (葉菊蘭) – who hasn’t applied for the job. I’m looking forward to seeing if (or how) the two people who have stood for the position (former CLA Chairwoman Chen Chu (陳菊) and Legislator Kuan Pi-ling (管碧玲)) will be pushed aside.

Constitutional reform flare-up

I’ve been meaning to post about the renewed interest in constitutional reform over the last week or so. Michael Turton has already reported on this, and TOS has just blogged on Ma Ying-jeou’s position. Given that I think Ma is completely wrong on this issue, I felt the need to reply.

The background: Self-interest and stupidity

Just under two years ago, the Legislature (almost) unanimously approved a reform to the constitution which would halve the number of seats in the legislature to 113. At the time, I was impressed that legislators were willing to vote themselves out of a job for the good of the country. I’m now starting to suspect that they were just too stupid to realise that halving the legislature might actually affect them. Comprehension has slowly dawned on some of the legislators who are now, in a breath-takingly blatant show of naked self-interest, proposing that the number of seats be increased. There’s a news report here which correctly comments:

As a 113-member Legislature will inevitably drive many incumbent lawmakers out of jobs, some are seeking a constitutional reform to keep their careers alive.

Note that the actual number of legislators is a small detail of the constitution compared to more serious issues like the system of government. To give the whole thing a very thin veneer of respectability, the legislators are also proposing a move to a more parliamentary constitution; this is actually something worthy of debate. However, members of Taiwan’s parliament proposing to increase the power of the parliament is hardly what you’d call altruistic. (Needless to say, head of parliament Wang Jin-pyng is for an increase in parliament’s power while would-be-president Ma Ying-jeou is against this reduction in presidential power.)

The claim of these would-be-reformers is that 113 is just too small a number, and that there will be too much work for those poor legislators under this scheme. Given that most legislators treat the whole thing as a part-time job at best, this is pure bunkum. Hopefully, a reduction in numbers will force legislators to take their job seriously, and stop with the ridiculous grandstanding on TV. (If you want an example of Legislators doing something other than their job, interfering in a functioning legal process, profiting from personal tragedy and generally butting their noses in where they don’t belong then here is today’s sickening example.)

So Ma’s right to oppose reform?

Well, no. While he could have taken a sensible position like his DPP counterpart Yu Shyi-kun – who simply opposes an increase in the size of the legislature – he is opposing any changes. His speech last week at NTU was a classic example of getting everything wrong:

In a speech delivered at a symposium titled “The Growth of Constitutional Democracy and Its Challenges” held by the National Policy Foundation at National Taiwan University, Ma said the Constitution should not be treated as a scapegoat for Taiwan’s problems.

He said that revising the nation’s Constitution is not necessarily the cure-all for Taiwan’s political reforms.

Here’s the first stupid argument. Noone is treating the constitution as a scapegoat: The DPP have been constant in pushing for constitutional reform for years, and it was a key component of both of Chen Shui Bian’s election campaigns. It would probably be being pushed by the DPP even more strongly if they weren’t in their current mess. Equally noone is claiming it is a ‘cure-all’ – it is important for saner government, but everyone is well aware that Taiwan will still have idiotic politicians in charge after any change.

He pointed out that during the past short period of 15 years, the Constitution has been amended seven times — a rare phenomenon for any democratic country.

True. But then no democratic country has gone through the huge changes that the ROC has (no, TOS not even Germany which has had 23 amendments. Unifying two roughly equivalently sized countries is a smaller change than moving from the biggest country in the world to a tiny little island off its coast). It’s also a complete red herring – the issue is whether the current constitution is suitable, not whether the process up to now has been correct.

Ma said there are many burning issues that need to be addressed, including finding effective ways to prevent Taiwan’s economy from being further marginalized.

Maybe when Ma becomes president he will realise that a government needs to be able to hold more than one idea in its head at a time. He will also be pleased to hear that out of the 6 reform priorities that President Chen has announced, half of them are purely economic issue (and only 1 is to do with constitutional reform). Listing urgent priorities for the government has absolutely no relevance when discussing the importance of constitutional reform – it’s just another red herring.

Ma blamed the multitude of problems plaguing Taiwan today on the failure of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to observe the Constitution and its disregarding the spirit of democracy.

Now, I know the KMT-led legislature have passed laws which have been found to be unconstitutional (and, oh look, another one of dubious constitutionality was promulgated last week), and have also held huge weeks-long demonstrations to protest democractic elections whose results they didn’t like. I’m not aware of anything equivalent from the DPP though. It’s irrelevant, and yet another red herring anyway.

Unlike the DPP, he promised that the KMT will respect the opposition party that controls the Legislative Yuan when nominating a new premier if the KMT becomes the ruling party by winning the presidential race in 2008 but does not have a majority in the parliament.

The KMT chairman, who concurrently serves as mayor of capital Taipei with a Ph.D. in law from Harvard University, said the spirit of the existing Constitution is a “dual-chief system” to allow the form of government to flexibly switch from the presidential system to a Cabinet administrative system when the ruling party loses majority in the Legislative Yuan.

Now, this just makes no sense to me. What does ‘switching to a cabinet administrative system’ involve? Under the mumbo jumbo, all he’s saying is that he believes that the party with a majority in the legislature should always wield power – in other words he wants a parliamentary system. So why the oppostion to reform?

Ma pointed out the fact that President Chen Shui-bian, a lawyer by trade, openly declared in his campaign platforms in 2000 to back the “dual-chief system.” But Chen clang to the control of the Executive Yuan (Cabinet) after cashing in on the split of the KMT to win the presidency.

Which is of course false. Chen’s first act as president was to nominate a KMT stalwart as Premier. It was only when this failed that Chen moved to his current unilateral approach. The ‘dual-chief’ system thus moved from a desperate struggle to cooperate to a ‘DPP proposes, KMT blocks’ dual-chief system.

Incidentally, I love it when a politician calls upon the ‘spirit of the constitution’. Generally speaking this can be translated to “This is what I’d like the Constitution to say. Unfortunately it doesn’t”. As in this case. Ma’s claim that there should be dual-responsibility for the Executive Yuan is flat out wrong. Here’s what the constitution has to say on the matter:

The president of the Executive Yuan shall be appointed by the president.

You can’t really get much more simple than that. Of course, the Legislature can kick the Premier out of his job via a vote of no-confidence (in a similar manner to the way they can recall or impeach the president). Indeed, if Ma really thinks that the ‘spirit’ of that one sentence I quoted from the constitution is being abused, you have to wonder why the KMT have never exercised this power of no-confidence.

Of course, Ma has good personal reasons for opposing constitutional reform: It is championed by the DPP (so he can’t allow it to succeed), it might reduce the powers of the president (which he aspires to be), and the constitutional problems are currently unlikely to affect him (with the current state of affairs, he’s probably fairly confident of becoming president with a KMT-controlled legislature. If we end up with a DPP-controlled legislature and a KMT president he might change his tune).

So, what’s likely to happen? Absolutely nothing. Without Ma’s support, constitutional reform just isn’t going to happen. At least it means the recent hare-brained ideas of the legislators will go nowhere – I guess we should be thankful for small mercies.

Illegal political donations

The semi-defunct Control Yuan recently reported on recorded political donations for last December’s local elections. An impressive amount of money was raised and spent by the politicians – and inevitably a large number of donations (around 400) were of dubious legality. However:

Control Yuan Secretary-General Tu Shan-liang (杜善良) said that initial screening of accounting reports showed that there are a great number of suspected law violations, which can be determined only by the fourth Control Yuan, whose members have still not been confirmed and hence are unable to take over from the third Control Yuan members to start their six-year term in office.

Got that? Political donations are now (and have been for over a year) completely un-policed. Not only that: until the Legislature appoints new members to the Control Yuan, anyone who makes an illegal political donation is protected by the constitution from prosecution.

Of course, when (or is that if?) the Control Yuan is appointed they can plow through their massive backlog of cases (I believe it’s well over 10,000 now) and prosecute offenders – with one big caveat: there is a timelimit of 3 years between the incident and the investigation. If we assume that the current political impasse will last through CSB’s term as president (as seems possible), then any crimes committed in the first few months of 2005 can not be investigated.

Luckily political corruption isn’t a problem in Taiwan, so there’s nothing to worry about …

Shit hits the Fan

Call me puerile, but when the head of a fertilizer company called ‘Fan’ gets sacked, the headline sort of writes itself.

Former Taiwan Fertilizer Co. Chairman Fan Chen-tsung (范振宗) filed a slander suit against his former colleagues after returning to Taipei yesterday afternoon, adding to the ruckus over his controversy dismissal last week.

Fan, a Hakka community leader who served two terms (eight years) as Hsinchu County magistrate before being appointed as Taiwan Fertilizer chairman, said Huang had called him “human trash,” and Lin Chih-yao, the company’s supervisor, described him as “shit and garbage” while talking to reporters about the company’s poor management under Fan’s leadership.

The serious question in all this is: Why is chairman of a fertilizer company a political appointment? The government nowadays only has a minority stake in the company, so why hasn’t it given up its power to appoint the chairman?

The DPP’s secret weapon

The last year or so has been pretty rough on the Democratic Progressive Party. Election losses, corruption scandals, government paralysis and internal party divisions have all left the party floundering. However, they still have one secret weapon – a man who has enabled all the DPP’s election successes.

This man was responsible more than any other for their win in the 2000 presidential election. He also ensured they became the largest party in the legislature in 2001. He was heavily involved in the 2004 presidential election, and was still around to ensure that the DPP remained the largest legislative party that same year. Before the DPP became a force he masterminded the ascension of a pro-independence president. Step forward, long time confidante of Lee Teng-hui, James Soong.

Soong’s mojo is fading fast, but it seems he’s trying to give the DPP one last boost before he retires to his ill gotten gains:

People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong remains bent on running for the Taipei mayoral seat, but has complaints about the Kuomintang’s (KMT’s) refusal to support him, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng revealed yesterday.

Wang, who met with Soong behind closed doors Monday, said the PFP chief “is definitely firm” about joining the year-end mayoral race.

To put this in perspective: Taipei City is heavily pan-Blue. Even without the KMT’s current popularity and the DPP’s problems, there should be no way that a pan-Green candidate could win the mayoral election. This is so obvious to everyone that one DPP member actually fled the country to avoid being coopted into running (and noone has yet officially decided to stand for the DPP), while 12 people registered to become the KMT’s candidate. The only chance the DPP have of winning is if there a split of the pan-Blue vote – this happened in 1994 when a KMT/New Party split let Chen Shui-bian win.

If Soong runs for Mayor, the only possible benificiary would be the DPP. There is no way that Soong could get more votes that a Ma Ying-jeou supported KMT candidate. The only question is whether he could divide the KMT support base enough to let a DPP candidate in. And yet it seems he still plans to run.

Unless you believe Soong is a Machiavellian genius who has secretly worked for the cause of Taiwan Independence for the last twenty years, there is only one explanation for his behaviour: desperation. Soong’s popularity is fading, his party is dying, but he still lusts after power. Mayor of Taipei is just about the only straw left for him to clutch at.

If the DPP were competent, they’d be busy sponsoring surveys to show just how popular Soong remains to the man on a Taipei street, and hoping Soong’s ego forces him to run. Expect a resurgence of interest in the election from the DPP if he does.

Update (Thursday): That was quicker than expected. It seems Frank Hsieh read the reports about Soong running. From the hilariously titled article ‘DPP mulls plan on clean politics’:

Meanwhile, it appeared yesterday that former premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) has had a change of heart and may be considering a run for Taipei mayor.