Even before President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) move against Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said he was ready for “a legislature without Wang Jin-pyng.” However, just as was the case in 2008, when Ma ran an election campaign advertisement saying “we are ready,” Ma is not ready. As a result, his approval ratings have dropped to the lowest for any Taiwanese president.
The case against Wang is his alleged improper lobbying, but Ma has refused him any opportunity to defend himself. This makes it clear that the accusations are simply an excuse. Ma’s motivation is to gain control over the legislature, so that he can enforce his own will and policies.
The Presidential Office and the Cabinet have long complained that a lack of legislative efficiency hinders policy implementation. Both institutions are also unhappy that Wang has been unwilling to call on police to break opposition blockades. In addition, they feel that Wang’s slow consultation procedure has reduced the government’s efficiency. Eliminating Wang is considered necessary to quickly settle issues surrounding the service trade agreement, the commercial operations of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), New Taipei City (新北市), and the reform of the retirement pension system for public school teachers.
The legislature will be able to function without Wang, but his speakership has been notable for a particular approach. He is a gentle and warm person who will not entertain hostilities, and he is willing to communicate and assist people. He does not want brawls and clashes in the legislature and he wants time to give an issue his full consideration so the right decision is made. He feels that spending time and effort on negotiations is the way to move forward.
He also insists on the dignity of the legislature and will not call in police because he does not want outside forces to become involved in legislative disputes. After Wang’s 14 years as speaker, it has become increasingly rare to see violence in the legislature, although lawmakers still get into scuffles or forcibly occupy the podium.
Ma might be able to arrange it so that a more obedient legislator becomes speaker if Wang has to step down, but the atmosphere and attitude on the legislative floor would change drastically. In past conflicts, legislators from both the governing and the opposition parties have asked Wang to conduct party-to-party talks. His effective facilitation would be missed.
Wang has rarely been a target in scuffles because of the respect he has earned. If he has to step down, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators might be unwilling to come to a new speaker’s aid and opposition lawmakers might have less restraint. This could result in the speaker being bruised in a scuffle and deciding to call in police, which could lead to further violence and a deteriorating atmosphere that would slow down the legislative process even more.
The legislature is an image of society in miniature, and legislators are a reflection of the citizenry. The legislative problems will not go away just because there is a new sheriff in town.
The Ma administration should engage in some self-reflection. As long as the Cabinet treats the legislature as a rubber stamp for Cabinet policies and otherwise ignores it, there should not be any surprise that the lawmaking process takes so long.