Taiwan’s hard-won democracy is backsliding following two recent moves by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in his quest for re-election.
The Ma administration’s handling of the Local Government Act and the Control Yuan’s impeachment of Prosecutor-General Chen Tsung-ming (陳聰明) reflect Ma’s electoral calculations.
Ever since he took office, Ma has relied on four pillars. One is the fact that he received 58 percent of the vote in the presidential election. The second is that he fast-tracked the cross-strait economic opening to fulfill his campaign pledges. The third is his appeal for a “diplomatic truce” with Beijing to erase Taiwan’s image as what Ma calls a “troublemaker” and build healthy US-Taiwan relations. The last one is his campaign against corruption, mainly in the form of the indictment and trial of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).
Yet the first three pillars have collapsed as a result of Ma’s inability to boost the economy and rein in unemployment, and the government’s bungling of the response to Typhoon Morakot in August.
While Taipei and Beijing have refrained from buying out each other’s diplomatic allies and Taiwan was able to attend the most recent World Health Assembly (WHA) as “Chinese Taipei,” Taipei is still excluded from this year’s Executive Committee as an observer. This raises the question of whether China has set conditions for allowing Taiwan more room for international participation.
US-Taiwan relations also suffered after the KMT-controlled legislature revised the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) to block imports of some US beef products.
Washington accused Taipei of unilaterally violating the beef protocol signed by the two countries.
With three of his pillars having collapsed and following his party’s disappointing performance in the legislative by-elections in Yunlin County in September, the three-in-one local elections in December and the three legislative by-elections earlier this month, it’s no surprise that would Ma resort to the only tactic left to him — utilizing the case against Chen Shui-bian to consolidate his core supporters in the pan-blue camp.
Ma said after the by-election that the major reason for the KMT’s poor showing was the government’s failure to impeach Chen Tsung-ming for his “inappropriate behavior” after it emerged that he and then-minister of justice Shih Mao-lin (施茂林) were invited by Huang Fang-yen (黃芳彥), the former first family’s physician, to meet at Huang’s residence on Feb. 26, 2007.
Since Chen Tsung-ming was appointed by Chen Shui-bian, Ma blamed the KMT’s electoral woes on the prosecutor-general for not pursuing the former president’s case vigorously enough.
The initial impeachment vote against Chen Tsung-ming failed, but after Ma linked the KMT’s troubles to Chen Tsung-ming, the Control Yuan passed the impeachment.
The prosecutor-general did in fact do some inappropriate things. But the timing of the Control Yuan’s second decision coincided with Ma’s calls for speeding up the case against Chen Shui-bian.
This raised the question of whether Ma was interfering in the judicial process and the Control Yuan’s jurisdiction and therefore undermined judicial independence and democracy.
The KMT’s last-minute maneuver to revise the Local Government Act, meanwhile, is a threat to the public’s right to vote and be elected to office for fixed terms.