Fri, Aug 01, 2008 - Page 8 News List

Switch to open ballot voting for top officials

By Chen Chao-ju 陳昭如

The long and arduous process of nominating and approving members of the Control Yuan, the Examination Yuan and the National Communications Commission (NCC) were finally completed earlier this month. The legislature rejected Control Yuan vice presidential nominee Shen Fu-hsiung (沈富雄) and three other candidates, while Examination Yuan presidential nominee Chang Chun-yen (張俊彥) withdrew amid controversy over his candidacy.

Hopefully, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), the Cabinet and the legislature have learned a valuable lesson from this and can exercise their constitutional duties with more caution.

It is particularly urgent that all parties concerned learn the importance of holding “open ballot” proceedings.

It is heartening to see Ma keep his promise to nominate women to at least one-quarter of the seats at the two yuans. Still, politics outweighed expertise in many of his choices, as evidenced by the highly questionable qualifications of several nominees.

Ma’s exercise of his nomination rights was not as well thought out as he claimed. Instead, he was too passive. Constitutional Interpretation No. 632 states the need for the president to fill these positions in a “timely manner.”

Ma should have been more pro-active in seeking out nominees rather than passively accepting recommendations. After the nomination, he should have publicly supported them by speaking of their qualifications instead of leaving the candidates to fend for themselves or be subjected to humiliating questioning by legislators and the media.

When Yu Mei-nu (尤美女) — a lawyer highly respected by women’s groups and members of the legal profession — was rejected, Ma only expressed regret. Although the legislature approved the Examination Yuan nominees, the Presidential Office made no comments on some members’ improper ties to industry and academia, low attendance rates, misuse of public resources and conflicts of interest.

Coupled with this strange nomination procedure is the legislature’s reckless exercise of its right of approval. The review process was a typical example of legislative negligence, with only a few lawmakers present when the nominees introduced themselves on the floor. No public hearing was held for the review of NCC nominees, who all passed the first review.

Lawmakers can afford to be negligent because they are protected by the secret ballot, and the public cannot monitor them nor constrain their exercise of power. Article 29 of the Law Governing the Legislative Yuan’s Power (立法院職權行使法) states that the legislature shall exercise approval rights by secret ballot regarding the personnel affairs of the Judicial, Control and Examination yuans. Item 2 of Article 35 of the Rules of Procedure of the Legislative Yuan (立法院議事規則) also states that open ballot voting does not apply to such affairs.

The secret ballot eliminates undue pressure and helps lawmakers avoid responsibility and supervision, leading to closed-door politics. The ridiculous performance of the dominant Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) highlights the need for ballot reform.

In nominating candidates for grand justices, the Control Yuan and the Examination Yuan in future, Ma should carefully exercise his right to choose candidates, clearly explain his choices and actively recommend them. The legislature, for its part, should amend regulations to push for open ballot appointments to meet their responsibilities.

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