When a government is facing a crisis of governance, it is a sign that its administrative measures are ineffective; when a government faces a crisis of trust, it is a reflection of the obstacles to its policy implementation. However, when a government is facing a fundamental moral crisis, the result will be the total collapse of its legitimacy. Unfortunately, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is facing all three types of crisis. The tragedy is that not only are Ma, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) incapable of resolving these crises, they are also constantly adding fuel to the fire.
The back and forth on the implementation of the capital gains tax on securities transactions is a reflection of constant flip-flopping on policy grounded in incompetence. The dispute over whether to continue the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮) should have resulted in a policy debate based on safety, security, environmental and energy issues, but instead the government managed to further intensify public distrust by attempting to run over the majority of the public’s opposition to nuclear power through a political scheme based on a clever application of the unreasonable Referendum Act (公投法).
The government also tried to resort to closed-door dealings to amend the law to decriminalize the expenditure of public funds on alcohol in hostess bars by elected officials, and although it had to back off and defuse the situation at the last minute after a strong backlash, it had already managed to elevate the crisis to the point where it had lost all moral legitimacy. It will now be very difficult for the government to do anything to improve the situation.
When a government whose popularity, credibility and support ratings keep plumbing new depths is faced with these three crises, it goes without saying that it should abandon its arrogance, start listening to the public and restrict its abuse of power. However, this has not been the preferred route of the Ma administration. Instead, it has chosen to continue to hide behind propaganda and large numbers of bodyguards, to duck growing social criticism and to violently suppress protesters, bringing the specter of authoritarianism back to Taiwan.
From the unjust demolition of people’s houses, despite promises to the contrary, to the opaque, closed-door negotiations over the cross-strait service trade agreement, Ma, Wu and Jiang have lost all credibility. When they fell so far that they resorted to misusing the national security forces to illegally arrest National Chengchi University professor Hsu Shih-jung (徐世榮) for calmly protesting against the government, they formally sounded the alarm against the call to “bring down the government.”
The only thing that now keeps the Ma administration in power is the high constitutional threshold for recalls: The protection of the ruling party’s legislators makes it impossible for the public to initiate a recall procedure. To turn the dissatisfaction and anger throughout civil society into concrete action for real change, it is necessary to turn to the legislature. During the extraordinary legislative session that is just about to start, legislators must give serious consideration to the question of whether they are on the side of Ma’s opinion or on the side of public opinion so that we can decide whether we should initiate recall procedures for our legislators to enable us to elect a group of public representatives that really want to stand together with civil society.
Huang Kuo-chang is an associate research professor at the Academia Sinica’s Institutum Iurisprudentiae.
Translated by Perry Svensson