Fri, Oct 26, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Legislators have failed to live up to democracy

By Ku Chung-hwa 顧忠華

During the Martial Law era, the Legislative Yuan was an "abnormal" body which, until 1992, was filled with representatives elected to represent all provinces in China -- a situation that exposed it to international ridicule. It resembled more a branch of the Cabinet, rather than an independent institution. It was unable to truly exercise its function of maintaining checks and balances in the government.

However, waves of reforms have gradually transformed the legislature until it became a body worthy of a democracy.

But politics in Taiwan can change direction very fast. In 2000, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took over the government from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). After this, the legislature became an even fiercer battleground between the ruling and the opposition parties.

The result is gridlock, with more sensitive proposals, like the draft defense budget and a draft law on retrieving the KMT's ill-gotten wealth, being blocked by the opposition-dominated Procedure Committee.

Even this year's government budget was blocked for half a year before it finally passed.

The appointment of new grand justices also suffered, with the opposition parties adopting a partial boycott by sending only their caucus leaders to vote. The result was that none of the nominations for candidates labeled "deep green" passed.

This was yet another sacrifice made in the continuing battle between the ruling and the opposition parties.

While this model of resistance no doubt satisfies an opposition bent on showing its political power, to the public, it is nothing but a manifestation of the legislature's inability to rationally discuss public issues. Seeing legislators act like a bunch of children, the public has lost its confidence in the legislature.

Media reports say that even after the number of seats in the legislature is halved, the legislative budget will stay the same. This has given rise to public misgivings that when a new legislature takes office, legislators will enjoy even more benefits and twice the power.

One reason why 70 percent of the public supported halving the number of legislative seats when it was first proposed was frustration with the power and prestige of the legislative departments. The public thought that reducing the number of legislators could force the legislative body to listen to public opinion. They never thought that the result of this measure would be the exact opposite.

Hopes that the legislature could turn into a normal, democratically functioning body appear to be dim. Nongovernmental organizations supervising the legislature are hoping that the new legislature will push for more sunshine laws, observe civilized behavior, promote transparency, care for the public and upgrade efficiency. Instead, they are more likely to see legislators continuing to misbehave and ignoring self-discipline in favor of self-enrichment.

Nevertheless, I hope that in the last session of the current legislature, all caucuses and legislators could still learn from the support or opposition they get from the public.

Legislators should establish rules of behavior and learn how to exercise power in a civilized manner. More importantly, they should keep a tight check on the budget. They cannot afford to be lax in controlling the legislature but strict in governing the people.

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