Thu, Mar 15, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Legislators' freedom of speech not worth much

By Chin Heng-wei 金恆煒

In Britain's parliament, "one can do anything except turn a man into a woman or vice versa." In our legislature, which is equally permissive, "being able to do anything," includes openly cursing a man as a "son of a bitch" or slapping a woman in the hallowed halls of political debate. If Britain's parliamentarians knew the ferocity of Taiwan's legislators, they would undoubtedly sigh and concede their own comparative unworthiness.

Britain, however, has a Cabinet system while Taiwan has a semi-presidential system. The difference is that Britain's parliament is capable of fully checking and balancing the government, but Taiwan's legislature has no constitutional ability whatsoever to extend its influence over the Presidential Office. That office does not have to be responsible to the legislature, nor does it have to listen to any opinions from the legislature.

Legislators can openly censure national policy advisers and senior advisers to the president by using foul language to make personal attacks, but this accomplishes nothing apart from venting their personal frustration. It merely shows the quality of their own upbringing. What does it have to do with anyone else? As for pressuring the Presidential Office to dismiss advisers from their posts or asking the Control Yuan to impeach them, not only is there no basis for this in law, but such actions transgress the limits of legislators' authority. Under the umbrella of protected speech, legislators can insult each other and anyone else, but any attempt to extend their authority over the president or his national policy advisers will end with frustrated cries, having achieved nothing.

It is not only legislators who are without any means to deal with national policy advisers. Even the president himself has no legal recourse for cutting short their tenure. This is called due process. Amid the recent uproar over the Japanese cartoonist Yoshinori Kobayashi (小林善紀), Alice King (金美齡), a presidental adviser, openly called for the president to step down and went on to declare that she doesn't recognize the ROC -- and she can't be ousted from her job.

Speaking purely from the perspective of the system of constitutional government, there are no limits at all on national policy advisers and senior advisers to the president. Even if they are foreigners, there are no provisions for removing them. Although King's words grated on many people's ears, no one can point out which "heavenly edict" she has violated.

The funny thing is that some legislators want to revise the laws relating to the Presidential Office. They want to add a provision to the statute on the organization of the national policy advisers committee requiring recognition of the ROC. This amounts to establishing a law aimed at a particular person. We could call it the "Alice King statute." It fully reveals the apprehension these legislators feel about the existence of the ROC.

Chin Heng-wei is editor in chief of Contemporary Monthly magazine.

Translated by Ethan Harkness

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