While no one would deny the role of the legislative branch under the constitutional system, seldom do most people listen to what lawmakers actually say on the floor of the Legislative Yuan, apart from watching edited video clips on television.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Liu Chao-hao’s (劉櫂豪) questioning of Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) on Sept. 25 became a rare exception as the video recording of his 13-minute-long question-and-answer session went viral on the Internet, attracting more than 430,000 hits.
The phenomenon occurred at the peak of the fiercest political strife in recent memory, with President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), Huang and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) at the center of the storm, which maybe sparked people’s unusual interest in what one lawmaker had to say.
However, it was Liu’s eloquence and pointed questioning, which often left Huang speechless, as well as his ability to explain the legal and political complexity of the controversy in a simple way that caught people’s attention. The judge-turned-lawmaker, who is an experienced politician, became an instant hit.
Meanwhile, several international media outlets have again brought up the legislature’s notorious reputation for brawls and endless boycotts when they reported the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) internal power struggle and the current tensions between the administrative and legislative branches, which escalated due to the prosecutors’ alleged wiretapping of the legislature’s switchboard.
More than half of the respondents in a recent survey conducted by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research said they do not oppose the use of police power to ensure the legislative proceedings run smoothly.
Liu’s questioning and the legislature’s shameful standing in the public eye appear to reflect how good and how bad the lawmaking body can be amid the public’s call for legislative reform in reaction to the political crisis, which began with an allegation over improper lobbying.
With the now famous Liu interpellation, lawmakers should be able to realize that they do not have to resort to extreme measures — such as humiliating government officials or physical confrontation — to get noticed. Other than Liu, DPP legislators Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴), Lee Chun-yi (李俊俋) and Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) are known for their sharp questioning ability, but most other legislators have gotten little attention.
The opposition perhaps should also learn a lesson about how people view the legislature. Despite the opposition boycotts of the podium or pushing and shoving (which often have sensible justifications), the legislature has never been “at a standstill” as the ruling party describes it. Meetings of subcommittees proceeded as usual. Still people seemed to be exhausted by what they read in newspapers and see on television about this most important democratic institution.
The question worth asking is why the DPP, which could not have possibly been unaware of people’s disgust of boycotts and physical confrontations, still took those actions in the legislature.
At the very least, the tradition of partisanship is one of the main reasons why sensible discussions are absent in the legislature, where party position and policies are always the top priority.
If the DPP has a thing or two to learn about about how their efforts to protect the public interests end up unappreciated, the KMT — the perennial majority party — has much to learn about what is best for the nation.
The KMT headquarters and caucus always abuses the party’s legislative majority, leaving no room for consensus-building and negotiations, in particular on major controversial issues, such as the ban on drug residue tainted US beef, nuclear energy, pension reform and the cross-strait service trade agreement.
It takes two to tango, and it will take all the parties involved to initiate the first step toward a well-functioning legislature.