Su could lead legislative reform

By Lin Cho-shui 林濁水  / 

Sun, May 08, 2011 - Page 8

During the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) presidential and legislative primaries in 2008, the candidates attacked each other mercilessly, causing serious damage to the party’s image. Although DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and former premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) acted cautiously in this year’s primary election, a state of high tension and constant provocation remained between their teams, making many worry about the party’s future. Luckily, Su, who by some was seen to have been humiliated, quickly held a press conference to congratulate Tsai and call for party unity. Thanks to this praiseworthy move, the DPP can draw a sigh of relief.

Having won the primary under such circumstances, Tsai should be able to focus on the election. Although many have strongly suggested that Su become Tsai’s running mate, he has said unambiguously that he will actively campaign for her, but will not be her running mate.

Others have suggested that Su aim for the legislative speaker seat and work to win a legislative majority to ensure total control of the government for the DPP if Tsai wins the presidential election.

While this suggestion may have been made with good intentions, it is not really Su’s style. In addition, the suggestion is premised on the idea that the legislative speaker functions as the president’s deputy. Although that has been the legislative speaker’s job since the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regained power, it contradicts democratic principles and constitutional custom in most countries.

In the KMT, it is only natural to treat the legislative speaker as the president’s deputy or subordinate. In the authoritarian era, the legislative speaker was automatically appointed to the party’s Central Standing Committee. After Taiwan’s democratization, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) of the KMT once served as the party’s vice chairman, an inappropriate appointment.

The speaker of the British parliament and the French president both withdraw from party activities once elected. In the US, political parties are “soft” parties and they strictly abide by the separation of administrative and legislative powers. It is impossible that the British, French or US speaker would become the president’s or the prime minister’s subordinate in the party. This follows the spirit of the separation of powers and also allows the legislature to effectively support the president’s policies, while monitoring the implementation of those policies.

That means that the suggestion that Su run for the legislative speaker seat in order to ensure total control of the government is flawed. Still, there are other reasons for suggesting that he help the DPP to gain a legislative majority and run for the speaker seat.

Because of the characteristics of the nation’s legislative system, including having the legislative speaker serve as the president’s subordinate in the party, the organization of legislative committees and the legislative agenda, the legislature basically remains a “legislative bureau” under the Cabinet. That means that it was inappropriate to ask Su to run for the speaker seat for those reasons. However, the DPP may win more votes than the KMT in the next legislative election.

Since Su was highly praised for finishing the primary so gracefully, the DPP is more likely to win a legislative majority if he were to lead the legislative campaign and run for the speaker seat. This is Taiwan’s first chance to transform its legislative system into a fully democratic system. If Su could seize on this historical opportunity to achieve that goal, the achievement would be greater than the achievements of any of those incompetent Taiwanese presidents.

Coincidentally, Su has served as a one-term legislator, and this is very important. To reform the legislature, a seniority system is crucial. Owing to the abnormal legislative system, political heavyweights seldom run for election to the legislature or just remain there temporarily. This means that there is no influential political leader who can launch reform from within, but if someone without any legislative experience launches reform as soon as he takes up his position as legislator, that could seriously damage the establishment of a seniority system. Su’s experience as a legislator a few years back is therefore very valuable. Certainly, if he can help the DPP pursue a legislative majority based on calls for legislative reform, he could greatly benefit the party’s campaign.

Because of the legislature’s bad reputation, the president’s supreme power and the combination of the legislative and presidential elections in January next year, legislative candidates have to rely on the “coattail effect” offered by the presidential election. However, if the DPP’s legislative candidates can act in unity and propose policies that differ from those proposed by the president, and because legislative reform is high among the public’s expectations, the KMT would become the target of a two-pronged attack.

Since Su has promised to make every effort to campaign for Tsai, heading the legislative campaign seems to be the most effective way to do so. It would not only offer Tsai effective support, it would also help reform the legislature. This is an opportunity to complete Taiwan’s democratization. The nation will be awaiting Su’s decision.

Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.