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Replacing legislature with honest lawmakers is only hope

Publication Date : 25-09-2013


What is known as the “September Strife” between Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou and Wang Jin-pyng, speaker of the Legislative Yuan, has prompted the Kuomintang to propose doing away with horse-trading in parliamentary procedure.

Taiwan's parliament is probably one of the worst in the world, notorious for opposition lawmakers occupying the rostrum to prevent action on bills. Clashes on the rostrum usually result in free-for-alls, which are often televised across the world as a spectacle of parliamentary dysfunction and of how the rule of law is upheld in Taiwan. Wang is chiefly responsible for the recent melee because of his refusal to enforce order in parliament, and that's one reason why President Ma, seeking to reform the nation's highest legislative organ, wants to get rid of him as speaker.

After Taiwan was democratised with the imposition of a ban on lifetime appointments for legislators, the Legislature became an arena for opposition legislators and for long periods remained idle or even paralyzed. To improve its track record, the results of negotiations between ruling and opposition parties were codified 15 years ago in the Parliamentary Procedure Law. The new system worked for a time, but soon gave rise to a form of political horse-trading, the most scandalous example of which is an amendment to the Audit Law exonerating Yen Ching-piao, an independent lawmaker friendly to the Kuomintang, from charges of using public funds to take friends to girlie bars during his term as Taichung County council speaker, and pro-Democratic Progressive Party university professors from embezzlement of research funds.

Under the amended Parliamentary Procedure Law, all bills referred to or sponsored by the Legislative Yuan for action shall undergo deliberation in standing committee after the first reading or assigned for a second reading. Should there be disagreement in committee or a request before the second reading, the bills are submitted to the speaker who then calls party whips to mediate between the ruling and opposition parties. Each deliberative session may last for a month, during which time no action can be taken on the bills, creating a huge backlog that paralyzes the legislature.

The worst part of such conferences is that any party in control of a mere three seats in the 113-member chamber can form a party caucus entitled to take part in, as well as halt, this deliberative process. In other words, a party with no more than three lawmakers can hijack the Legislature. To pass any bill, horse-trading in the so-called smoke-filled backroom to appease these opposition parties has become a necessary evil.

One way to prevent horse-trading, according to a Kuomintang proposal, is to increase the quota of seats required to form a caucus to four from the present three. Another proposal would mandate that these informal conferences be taped for transparency. Still another intends to forbid the occupation of the rostrum, with offenders subjected to harsh disciplinary action. Kuomintang lawmakers also suggest that bills be put to vote after the expiration of the one-month negotiation period, with whatever amendments made at committee meetings for the second reading remaining unchanged during the negotiations.

There is little chance that this proposal will be adopted by the current Legislature. Opposition parties, including the Taiwan Solidarity Union which seats three lawmakers and the People First Party which now has only two, will do whatever they can to block its passage.

Even if the proposal were to be adopted and enacted, Wang still wouldn't put a halt to this horse-trading so long as he stays in office thanks to a temporary injunction granted to him by the Taipei District Court. The only hope for any improvement in Taiwan's parliamentary procedure, which is the aim of President Ma's parliamentary reform, may only arrive with new Legislative Yuan elections in 2016, when eligible voters have a chance to replace politicians with honest lawmakers. But by then, Ma will have stepped down as president with his reform unfinished.


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