An article in Foreign Policy recently included Taiwan’s legislature in a list of the world’s most incompetent legislatures. Lawyer C.V. Chen (陳長文) responded by publishing an article in a Chinese-language newspaper earlier this month calling for reform of the electoral system in the hope that that would improve the legislature’s abilities.
If we’re looking to legislative incompetence, the electoral system is just the tip of the iceberg. The main problem is arguably the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s manipulation and abuse of the legislature. Let’s review some of the more miserable cases of the past.
Before Taiwan and China signed the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) last year, the public questioned the agreement and the opposition remained skeptical. According to Article 6 of the Act Governing Relations between the People of the Taiwan Area and the Mainland Area (台灣地區與大陸地區人民關係條例), this kind of agreement should be sent to the legislature for deliberation.
In addition, Article 43 of the Constitution states that a treaty or a significant national event must be presented to the legislature for confirmation.
However, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said that the legislature could discuss the ECFA, but could not change it.
Surprisingly, Ma justified his conclusion by citing the Council of Grand Justices’ Constitutional Interpretation No. 329, which states: “Agreements concluded between Taiwan and mainland China are not international agreements to which this interpretation relates. It should also be noted that whether or not these agreements should be sent to the Legislation [sic] Yuan for deliberation is not included in this interpretation.”
In fact, it was the principle of the separation of constitutional powers that led the grand justices not to offer a judicial interpretation on the issue of highly political cross-strait agreements.
After Ma’s statement, the legislature submitted the ECFA to a second reading without first allowing the related committees to review the agreement. It was then passed in a matter of minutes, leaving no room for discussion.
That was the moment the soul of Taiwan’s legislature died.
Going back a little further, the KMT was in hysterics after losing the presidency in 2000. Intransigent KMT legislators then for three years refused to exercise their power of consent to approve certain Control Yuan member nominees. That was followed by a another constitutional interpretation by the grand justices, No. 632, which stated: “The Constitution does not allow for the event in which either the President or the Legislative Yuan fails to nominate or consent to the nomination of candidates so that the Control Yuan cannot exercise its power or function, thereby jeopardizing the integrity of the constitutional system.”
In the end, the problem was solved when the KMT regained power in 2008 and nominated its own Control Yuan members, allowing the Control Yuan to resume its functions.
There are too many examples to even remember, including the US arms procurements that the KMT used to block, but now supports.
If we look at the legislatures in most democracies, they at least abide by the rules of the game and procedural justice despite fierce struggles among parties and lawmakers. They still respect the legislative minority and engage in negotiations, and they communicate, and compromise.