Legislative oversight of the executive branch is a democratic cornerstone. However, with the combined presidential and legislative elections last month, the legislative elections were completely overshadowed by the presidential election. It is very worrying that such an important institution should be given so little attention. It can only be hoped that the legislators in the new legislature will prove superior to those of the previous one.
The difference in numbers between the pan-blue and pan-green camps was smaller from 2004 to 2008, but it was also marked by strong divisions. In the next legislature, in office between 2008 and this year, the pan-blue camp controlled over 70 percent of the seats, and in addition, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected in 2008 with 58 percent of the vote, which gave the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) control of both the legislative and the executive branches. It was hoped that this would translate into a more effective legislature, but it was not only ineffective but also substandard.
During the passage of the cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), which the government saw as crucial, and the amendment of other related laws during the first extraordinary meeting of the fifth session, all bills and amendments were passed and sent to a second reading after just six minutes, despite dissent from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Why wasn’t such an important piece of legislation properly and thoroughly discussed by the legislature? Even worse, this situation was continually repeated during the previous legislature, as is easily ascertained by visiting the live broadcast and video-on-demand pages on the legislature’s Web site.
Legislation proposed by the DPP was often blocked by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) at the procedural committee stage, where the KMT has a larger number of committee members. This meant such proposals did not even make it to a first legislative reading. After the meeting between Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Chiang Pin-kung (江丙坤) and Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (ARATS) chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), many cross-strait agreements have come into effect “by default,” without having first gone through any active review.
In theory, legislative committees are supposed to provide expert reviews, but as important legislation is sent directly to a second reading or party negotiations it is not unusual to see committees adjourned by noon. During its last session, the legislature set a post-martial law record in passing a government budget almost untouched, cutting it by a mere 0.007 percent, clearly not fulfilling their responsibility to monitor the Cabinet.
Given this behavior, it is hardly surprising that the legislature has little credibility. According to an opinion poll conducted by the Chinese-language CommonWealth Magazine in July last year, only 25.5 percent of respondents were satisfied with the KMT, while more than 60 percent expressed dissatisfaction with the party.
The legislature is no longer completely dominated by the KMT, and it is to be hoped that there will now be more communication between the executive branch and the legislature, that the procedural committee will stop its practice of reviewing every proposed piece of legislation, that committees will be allowed to provide expert reviews and that committee members will review legislative proposals in earnest.