After 250,000 “white shirt” protesters hit the streets earlier this month, public calls for reform have become stronger. Civic groups have proposed starting a movement to “recall President Ma Ying-jeou’s [馬英九] legislators” in which they are focusing on Ma’s “party-state legislators” who are only interested in the will of the party instead of the will of the people. This movement is aimed at initiating a recall petition against Ma’s accomplices that help him run his party-state against the public will and kicking them out of the legislature.
After five years in power, Ma has made a mess of national policy. While Ma, with his incompetence and arbitrary way of doing things, is the main culprit, his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators have assisted him and are also responsible for this state of affairs.
The things that Ma has been most criticized for over the past year, such as the price hikes in fuel and electricity, the importation of US beef and the reintroduction of a capital gains tax on securities transactions, were all proposed by him and directed through the legislature by his legislators. He is now planning to use the same method to force the cross-strait service trade agreement and the proposed referendum on the continued construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant through the legislature, and all he needs to do that is the cooperation of the KMT’s legislative majority.
These party-state legislators did not begin to betray public opinion and ignore public welfare only when Ma came into power. When the KMT lost power in the 2000 presidential election, they used their legislative majority to boycott everything the DPP tried to get through and set no limit to the political havoc they would cause.
For a long period of time, the KMT even blocked military procurements from the US that were necessary for Taiwan to stand up to China’s military rise. This has caused an imbalance in military power on either side of the Taiwan Strait putting Taiwan in a disadvantaged position.
Ma’s approval rating is just over 10 percent; however, he still does whatever he feels like when it comes to policy. To pull this off, he relies on his voting army in the legislature. Regardless of how much the public disapproves of something, Ma is happy as long as things get voted through. Although his actions run counter to public opinion, there is nothing society can do. Therefore, recalling “Ma’s legislators” would be the most concrete way of getting Ma to listen to public opinion.
Democracy should not just be about elections and we cannot afford to ignore our elected representatives when they start to mess things up just because we have already cast our vote. Although the civil right of recall is clearly prescribed in Constitution, it is merely words on a scrap of paper. Now that the public is demanding reform so earnestly, focusing on the legislative support for Ma’s party-state is a prerequisite to bringing about a true constitutional democracy.
In this process, the public needs to look carefully at what the legislators they have entrusted with the right to represent them are doing, listen to what they say and watch how they vote to check if they are living up to the public’s expectations. If we find legislators that are not living up to what we expect of them, we can recall those who have been delinquent in their duties and expel them.
If this campaign were to develop positively it would be a concrete manifestation of how the public is waking up to the need to reform. This is the only chance to put Taiwan’s politics back on track and make it place the public first. Although the threshold for recall is high, it is without a doubt something worthy of working toward.
Lu Shih-hsiang is an adviser to the Taipei Times.
Translated by Drew Cameron