Wed, Nov 01, 2000 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Time out for a reality check

As the Spice Girls said: "Tell us what you want, what you really, really want." We address this request to the KMT. Taiwan stands, this week, poised on the brink of almost unprecedented political turmoil. Is that what the KMT wants? And how does it think it will benefit?

Too many commentators, ourselves included, have so far dismissed the threat to recall Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) as political grandstanding. But look at the figures. A vote of 25 percent of the 221 members of the Legislative Yuan can put forward a motion to recall the president. Endorsement by two thirds of the legislature -- that's 147 members -- is needed to pass the motion. The KMT, People First Party and New Party can only muster 141 votes. Everything then hinges on whether they can swing at last half of the 12 independents to their cause. The KMT has shown little trouble gathering independent support in the past -- even out of government, its powers of patronage can be extremely persuasive. But supposing it could sway enough of the the independents, is the resulting horrendous political turmoil what it really wants?

Remember that this crisis came about through the DPP's cancelling of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四). The complaint from the KMT-dominated legislature is that a budget had been passed for the plant, incorporated into a bill which was a law of the land. The executive, argued the legislature, was acting outside the law and should introduce an amendment to the original budget to scrap that part of it which allocated funds for the power plant's construction. Of course, such a measure would be likely to fail due to the KMT's legislative majority. The Cabinet has argued that it retains some kind of executive authority over a budget, either to implement it or not as it sees fit -- a not unconvincing position unless you believe that governments must be constrained by the budget proposals of their predecessors.

But there is a simple solution to this question of the legality of the Cabinet's move -- ask for an interpretation from the Council of Grand Justices. Either the Cabinet retains veto power over a budget or that veto must have legislative ratification. It's obviously a constitutional question and there is a body appointed to deal with problems of exactly this nature.

But there appears to be little interest in the KMT at the moment in waiting for a constitutional interpretation, suggesting little genuine interest in the relative arguments concerning legislative verses executive powers. What it appears to be seeking, rather, is the overthrow of the Chen presidency through constitutional means.

We would caution the KMT against proceeding with this for two reasons. The first is an appeal to the national interest. Given that the KMT's criticism of the DPP government in the last five months has been focused on the economic, political and social uncertainty generated by its mercurial policies, it ill becomes the KMT to take measures which will make previous insecurity pale by comparison. The nation doesn't need it.

But then the KMT hardly has a stellar record of putting the national interest before its own. So let's try another tack. Does the KMT honestly think that, by evicting Chen from the presidential office -- by no means a foregone conclusion -- a recall could be defeated or he might even win another election -- it could stop James Soong (宋楚瑜) from taking his place? With which candidate? Lien Chan (連戰), Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), Jason Hu (胡志強), Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九)? The idea is pure fantasy.

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