Since Taiwan began its transition toward democracy, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has produced two presidents, Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Their prestige in the eyes of the public differs, but they shared a similar power base. Lee doubled as party chairman, as Ma does now, and both presided over a KMT legislative majority. The KMT remains the world’s richest political party, and they both had access to both government revenue and party funds. Despite that, the two men have run the nation in very different ways.
Although Taiwan continues to progress, its presidents are getting worse, as are the KMT’s chairmen and even the party’s legislative caucus whips. In short, it is easy to see how this deterioration is related to the ongoing deterioration in political and economic governance and in human rights. This is something that future generations are certain to take note of.
If external monitoring and internal controls are weak, it will be easy for a powerful president to abuse power or to become involved in corruption, but the question is if they will violate political ethics and legal regulations. Presidents may fulfill the fundamental moral requirements, or it may be necessary for them to make an extra effort. These are the things that outside observers look at when deciding whether the national leader is really qualified to lead.
First, there is the relationship between the president and the legislative speaker. In 1998, the question of whether it should be possible to freely sell agricultural land caused a dispute over the amendment of the Agricultural Development Act (農業發展條例).
There was a tense confrontation between then-Council of Agriculture chairman Peng Tso-kwei (彭作奎) and the legislature’s farmer faction, which had come under heavy pressure from local factions who wanted to abolish restrictions on land division and allow the construction of farm houses. The KMT called a meeting between legislators and the Cabinet to mediate. Lee participated in the meeting, at which he repeatedly clashed with farmers from southern Taiwan over the principle that agricultural land should be used for agricultural purposes, and finally shocked everyone when he said that he was willing to kneel down and plead with them all to gain their approval.
This took place 15 years ago, and as democracy has continued to develop, subsequent chairmen keener on communication. Despite that, the public can see that whatever Ma says goes in almost every major policy decision and that KMT legislators and officials keep their silence in the face of Ma’s orders.
Second, there is the relationship between the chairman of the majority party and the opposition. During a legislative question-and-answer session on Sept. 25,
Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) revealed some frightening information. In addition to the report that Huang gave to Ma on a wiretapping case on Aug. 31, the two met again on Sept. 1, when Ma summoned him to discuss whether allegations of improper lobbying could be proven. These actions include bypassing the proper channels and leaking information, as well as presidential intervention in the judiciary, and as such, they constitute a major scandal.
It all began with the long-term wiretapping of the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) caucus whip, and was followed up by the inappropriate use of the surveillance records of the legislative speaker’s and other internal party opponents’ telephone conversations. This attempt to kill two birds with one stone, together with Ma’s reactionary comment that “there is no reason to fear wiretapping if one has not done anything illegal” makes us all wonder what to make of Ma’s 2008 inauguration remarks, when he promised that there would be no more illegal wiretapping.