The debate over whether the Legislative Yuan should continue to hold the national policy forum has dragged on for years. Early in this legislative session, the New Power Party caucus proposed abolishing it to improve parliamentary efficiency.
The Democratic Progressive Party caucus said that it would not rule out supporting the proposal, while the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus wanted to focus on the legislative committees, and the Taiwan People’s Party caucus said that it had yet to discuss the issue.
The national policy forum was established 16 years ago as a platform for minority parties to promptly respond to public opinion. Hasty abolishment without preparing an alternative might cause smaller parties to be ignored, which is not beneficial to improving parliamentary efficiency.
Whether it is a matter of interpellation, bill deliberation, hearings or investigations, all issues should be debated by legislators, as “debate” should be at the core of the legislature’s business. Legislators should establish two-way communication by convincing each other through logical arguments, not by hurling insults or launching personal attacks.
To establish an equal dialogue based on free and rational debate, improve the scientific and democratic nature of decisionmaking and minimize the negative effects of checks and balances on power, both the British Parliament and the US Congress have set debating rules.
For instance, a member should not deviate from the topic, nor use profane or vulgar language to address other members, and they should refer to them by constituency rather than personal name. These regulations program legislators to conduct rational discussion.
The Legislative Yuan has followed outdated rules since its establishment. Picking up bad habits from predecessors, most newly elected lawmakers often use loud and strong language, and few rely on rational reasoning.
Following the nation’s first direct legislative election in 1992, lawmakers often scrambled to express their opinions on current affairs by asking for the floor to speak for three minutes using their right to raise a question of privilege, raise a point of order or make a parliamentary inquiry.
Such conduct not only posed a great challenge to the legislative speaker, it also interrupted the predetermined session agenda.
In September 1994, a consensus was reached through cross-caucus negotiations to implement the national policy forum to prevent the legislative agenda from being interrupted by lawmakers asking for the floor.
Lawmakers who want to express their opinion can register and draw lots to speak for three minutes during the hour-long forum before the legislative session starts.
However, in practice these addresses are influenced by TV broadcasts. When the cameras are directed toward the legislative floor, the spotlight is on the lawmaker’s performance.
Protected by legislative immunity, lawmakers have gradually turned the forum into a stage for political posturing and all kinds of peculiar performances, such as wearing bizarre costumes, bringing props and banners, playing music, making sarcastic remarks or hurling insults, calling the forum’s appropriateness into question.
Debating the problems currently facing the nation and the measures to be adopted by the government is more beneficial to formulating feasible policies and in line with international trends than a legislator delivering a soliloquy in the forum.
Lawmakers across party lines should seize this opportunity to establish debating rules to replace the forum.
Lo Chuan-hsien is a former director-general of the Legislative Yuan’s Organic Laws and Statutes Bureau.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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