On Wednesday, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Central Standing Committee passed a two-phase proposal for legislative reform.
The first stage consists of four parts: strengthening the committee seniority system to avoid party negotiations overriding committee expertise; establishing a system allowing the legislature to launch investigations and hold public hearings so it can efficiently oversee the executive branch; setting up clear and unambiguous rules to avoid conflict of interest; and making the Procedure Committee a neutral and transparent institution.
The second stage consists of amending the legislative electoral system to address the representative imbalance between districts (for example, the lone legislator from Matsu represents a population of 9,000, while a legislator from Taiwan proper represents an average of 300,000 people) and the problem of legislators only paying attention to issues related to their own electoral districts instead of taking a wider perspective.
The DPP’s passage of this proposal has ratcheted up the call for democratic reform via the upcoming elections.
The quality of legislative deliberation in Taiwan has been heavily criticized, with the legislature being branded one of the worst in the democratic world. Not only has this brought shame to the country, but the poor state of the legislature has also damaged the rights of the public and prevented the nation’s competitiveness from improving.
While there are many reasons why the legislature has reached this state, the key problems are a weak systemic foundation and the lack of support for constructive systemic development.
The weak systemic foundation stems from the rule of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), who, in order to block the legislature from acting as an effective counterbalance to the executive branch, introduced a system that was different from other nations.
One example is the spoils-sharing system, with each legislative committee having three conveners to allow the Chiangs to divide and conquer. Another is the semi-annual shake up of conveners and legislators on the different committees to suppress the level of specialization and prevent the public hearings and investigations necessary to maintain the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government.
To retain its control over the legislature, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has worked hard to maintain these systemic shortcomings despite the fact that the whole legislature is now elected. Although academics and reform-minded legislators have repeatedly pushed for change, progress has been very difficult.
The lack of support for constructive systemic development can be seen in the unique, legally regulated system of closed-door negotiations between the government and the opposition which was established in 1999 — and which has only served to thoroughly destroy the spirit of specialized inquiry.
Apart from these, halving the number of legislative seats has thoroughly destroyed the democratic principle that every vote should have the same value.
Since the KMT’s control of the legislature has not only blocked reform, but also created a whole new set of systemic irregularities, the DPP has seized the right moment to push for legislative reform at a time when even Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) of the KMT says his party might have lost the chance to retain its legislative majority.