The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has made winning the legislature majority one of its primary goals, along with winning the 2016 presidential election, showing that it finally recognizes the importance of a legislative majority. After all, it knew very well how the country could come to a standstill when former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was in office and was handcuffed by the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) legislative majority.
That was why President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the KMT, which still holds a legislative majority, boasted about “complete governance” (完全執政), even though the events in the legislature over the past year proved otherwise.
As the legislative session has come to a close, it is a good time to review how the legislature, which local netizens and reporters refer to as “the madhouse,” performed over the past year.
In general, the “madhouse” did not change, as lawmakers, who spent most of their time trying to humiliate government officials in order to make the midday television news, only managed to pass a few dozens laws in the 24 hours before going into recess and were often too busy attending activities in their constituencies to make it to the legislative sessions.
There have been some — but only a few — positive developments, most notably the slashing of lawmakers’ own subsidies.
The KMT caucus appeared to be the leading actor in the drama in the way it flip-flopped on positions and sometimes was at odds with the party’s leadership on controversial policies and bills, such as the import ban on certain US beef products, the year-end bonuses for retired civil servants, the capital gains tax on securities transactions and year-end bonuses for employees of state-owned enterprises, among others.
Rarely has the KMT caucus shown such rebellion against its chairman, who happens to be Ma, on so many issues, but this reflects the extent to which the Ma administration has problems understanding the public’s true voice. However, the KMT caucus, which was legitimate in its opposition and reluctance to endorse the Executive Yuan’s policies, returned to its old self and eventually surrendered to Ma’s iron will.
While the KMT caucus showed willingness to reconcile with the DPP by placing bills about a “nuclear-free homeland” and media monopolization on the legislative agenda, it still blocked a lot of proposals, such as bills related to the KMT’s assets, the 18 percent preferential interest rate for civil service retirees’ pensions and the proposed political party act, which could jeopardize the interests of the party and its supporters.
As a minority party, the DPP caucus has always had difficulties getting its proposals on the agenda, much less through the legislature, unless the DPP lawmakers resorted to extreme measures, such as camping out on the legislative floor for five days to block a vote on easing the restrictions on US beef imports.
However, it could improve its monitoring of the government. For it to maximize its influence in the legislature, every one of its 40 lawmakers — not just some of them — have to work harder and focus on the bigger picture rather than getting hung up on the details.
As for the Taiwan Solidarity Union, its three lawmakers made waves with relentless boycotts. While it seemed to be left with no other viable option to make a big impact, the strategy could be a double-edged sword that comes back to haunt it.
The nation’s lawmakers have little time to rest, as daunting tasks such as proposals on government pension reform, media monopolization and public debts await them in the next session. The KMT, which has been struggling with plummeting approval ratings, the DPP, which has set its eye on gaining an unprecedented majority, and the legislature itself, which is keen to remove its “madhouse” label, all need to take the right steps now.