The results of Saturday’s elections marked the beginning of change. As the presidential handover takes place four months from now, on May 20, the first target of political reform is likely to be the legislature. With the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) 68 seats and newly elected independent Chao Cheng-yu (趙正宇), who is joining the DPP legislative caucus, the DPP will be able to fully control legislative staff appointments and the legislative agenda. It must also take full responsibility for the agenda’s successes and failures.
On Feb. 1, the 69 DPP caucus members will initiate these reforms. The first test will be the election of the legislative speaker and deputy speaker. The speaker represents the nation’s highest representative institution. The Cabinet answers to the legislature and the speaker fills an important constitutional role. It is not a private matter for the legislative majority or the legislature alone, but a major political issue that the whole nation pays close attention to.
Three people are thought to be in the running: Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) and Chen Ming-wen (陳明文), who won re-election, and newly elected lawmaker Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全).
Ker is one of the most senior members of the caucus and has been caucus whip for a long time, which means that he is familiar with the agenda. However, in the past, talks between ruling and opposition party caucuses have been accused of lacking transparency, and Ker’s image took a blow during a stand-off between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) in 2013, when Ma accused Wang of illegally lobbying for Ker in a breach of trust case.
Chen is sufficiently qualified to fill the position. He has close ties with president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and did well in Chiayi’s second electoral district. However, he has strong factional ties and he is also involved in a legal case that remains open.
Su headed the DPP’s legislator-at-large list, and he was Tsai’s running mate in her 2012 presidential bid. He has experience in local politics, the Executive Yuan and the legislature, although his legislative experience came almost 20 years ago, so he is not as well-connected within the institution as the other two.
Based on the legislature’s autonomy, it would not be appropriate for Tsai to make a recommendation as that would have a negative impact on checks and balances. Still, Tsai is DPP chairperson, which makes her attitude an important indicator for the party’s caucus.
The party has set up three basic principles for the position of speaker and deputy speaker: They should not participate in party activities, they should not hold any positions at any level within their party and — with the exception of representing the legislature in meetings called by the president to resolve disputes between the Executive Yuan and the legislature as required by the Constitution — they should not participate in any meetings addressing party and government coordination.
There is a public consensus behind the neutralization of the positions and operations transparency, but public expectations of the speaker go much further than that. The most basic requirement is that they are not corrupt and do not have any controversial criminal involvement that would harm the legislature, that they are familiar with the workings of the legislative agenda and capable of neutrally presiding over meetings, and that they have a legislative and diplomatic vision and capability.
The candidates should be evaluated on their legislative reform standards and they should offer their view of legislative operations, while the DPP’s caucus should consider what kind of leader it wants. The candidates should then integrate these views in order to avoid conflict due to minor differences, which would only destroy the party’s image and the new government’s first attempt at reform and have a negative impact on national development.
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