As promised, the KMT-led opposition yesterday started proceedings to have President Chen Shui-bian recalled.
The Legislative Yuan decided yesterday to try President Chen Shui-bian in the nation’s first ever attempt to recall the head of state.
Wang Jin-pyng, president of the Legislative Yuan, announced the outcome of a vote in favor of deliberation on a recall motion in the morning.
In a 113-96 vote, the opposition alliance of the Kuomintang and the People First Party passed the motion to deliberate on the recall at four plenary meetings on June 21, 22, 23 and 26.
On June 27, the recall motion will be put to a final vote on the floor of the nation’s highest legislative organ.
Obvious questions which I’ll try to answer here are ‘Will it succeed?’, ‘Is it justified?’, ‘Why are they doing it?’, and ‘Is it a good move?’. Interestingly, these questions are completely independent of each other.
Will it succeed?
No. It hasn’t got a chance, and everyone knows it.
The recall motion has two hurdles to clear, and it would fail both of them. The first is to get 2/3rds of the Legislature supporting the motion. Party loyalty is strong in Taiwan, and even a currently unpopular figure like Chen can still rely on the support of all his DPP legislators in this – so there will only be a fraction over 50% who will vote for a recall.
The 2nd hurdle is a public referendum. Although this is less well reported, this would fail too even if the motion was passed in the legislature, and the reason has nothing to do with Chen’s (un)popularity. You can be pretty sure that more people would vote for him to be recalled than for him to stay, but the referendum also needs 50% of the electorate voting. Taking a leaf out of the KMTs ‘boycott the referendum’ strategy in 2004, the whole thing could be defeated by the DPP asking people to stay at home and not vote. At that point, only the KMT faithful and the ones with a really strong dislike of CSB would be voting – the apathetic, the ones pissed off with politicians in general, the ones who think this is all a political stunt, and the DPP faithful would be at home ensuring the whole thing fails.
A final point on this: anyone voting for a recall would be voting for Annette Lu for president – does anyone expect a huge turnout to vote for that?
Is it justified?
This is purely a matter of personal opinion. The constitution says absolutely nothing about the justification of a presidential recall. The additional laws on recall simply say that the legislators must provide a reason. Yet another victory for Taiwan’s screwed-up constitution.
Hoping to cover all the bases, the opposition have filed 10 reasons for the recall – ranging from corruption (the main trigger for all this – Chen’s son-in-law, his wife and his advisors have all been tangled up in corruption scandals recently), policies they don’t like (albeit policies which got him elected), and the inevitable ‘he faked his assassination’ claims (needless to say with no evidence). I don’t think they’ve included his hairstyle in the list of complaints, but that would have been equally as valid – as this all just boils down to a straight vote on ‘Do you want CSB as president?’.
Why are they doing it?
Because they see political advantage in it. Given that they know it won’t succeed, and there are no legal guidelines for it, this can only be a calculated gamble that it will decrease support for the DPP/increase support for the KMT & PFP. The whole recall process gives the opposition a chance to rant about the (many) failings of their prime political enemy, which is the highest goal that any true Taiwanese politician ever aspires to.
Is it a good move?
This is, of course, the big question in all of this: Which political party will really profit out of it?
The KMT (and PFP) are gambling that focusing on Chen Shui-bian, and forcing the rest of the DPP to defend him, will tarnish the DPP more. Clearly, corruption scandals hurt the DPP, who used to champion themselves as a clean alternative to the black-gold KMT. However, there are several dangers with this approach.
Firstly, focusing on Chen can be seen as fighting yesterday’s battles: It won’t be Chen standing for election in 2008, and so scapegoating him could backfire – for example Frank Hsieh must be very happy: just a few months ago Hsieh was a virtual pariah, and seen as too tainted by corruption for the DPP, while now he’s regaining ground as an anyone-not-tainted-by-CSB candidate.
Secondly, this recall is fairly transparently an exercise in mud-slinging. If the mud fails to stick (or the target is already so muddy it makes no difference), then the pan-Blues just end up sullying themselves. The DPP are pointing out a whole range of constructive legislation (e.g. flood-relief bills, not to mention arms bills) that are being held up by this. The KMT have a long history of obstructionist behaviour which hasn’t yet come back to hurt them too badly – but this risks being a turning point. If the Taiwanese public start seeing the government paralysis as being caused by the pan-Blue legislature (rather than the pan-Green presidency/executive), then the KMT are in trouble.
So, the whole thing is a gamble – it could pay dividends, but it could backfire. But here’s an important point: It is a gamble that Ma Ying-jeou has no need to play. Ma is so far ahead in the polls that all he has to do is keep smiling at the camera and he is virtually assured of legislative success in 2007, and presidential success in 2008.
At this point, it should be noted that the man leading the recall movement is James Soong, who is dragging along a rather less enthusiastic Ma Ying-jeou. As head of the PFP, Soong has nothing to lose – his party is slowly fading, and will be destroyed in the 2007 legislative elections. It seems that Ma is playing along because he doesn’t want to be seen as a weak leader (isn’t that ironic? Doing what Soong says so that he can appear in control and decisive). To paraphrase Tony Blair, Ma wants to be seen as being ‘Tough on CSB. Tough on the causes of CSB.’
When you consider this move as a gamble of a desperate man, and consider how Soong seems to have a 100% record in unintentionally helping the DPP with everything he does (thanks to Sun Bin for reminding me about this), my suspicion is that Ma Ying-jeou could end up regretting this recall motion far more than Chen Shui-bian.