Several days ago, a certain individual wrote an article in which they offered an analysis of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) handling of the alleged improper lobbying by Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and what it was that Ma had done wrong.
The article concluded that Ma’s transgressions were: He “had not been populist, had not colluded with anyone, had not resorted to exploiting the system, had not tried to exert undue influence and had been perfectly transparent.”
The article’s message was that Ma was entirely blameless. It was nice rhetoric, but it falls apart once the logic of constitutional democracy is applied. Such scrutiny quickly reveals that Ma made many errors.
Is is true that Ma did not allow populist concerns to dictate his actions? The article said that he acted when the time was right and did not stay his hand for fear of the repercussions given Wang’s level of public support. In reality, Ma slipped into the autocratic mindset of a man who takes the governance of the country into his own hands in the full belief that he is a benevolent and virtuous ruler.
He underestimated the degree to which the average person was aware of the democratic rule of law. He insisted on proceeding with his battle against Wang backed up by evidence given to him by the Special Investigation Division (SID), which gathered it by questionable methods. Ma acted outside of the constitutional powers with which he is invested. Given all this, it is no wonder the public disapproved.
Is it true that he is innocent of collusion? The article said that Ma’s errors were failing to immediately revoke Wang’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) membership after receiving Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming’s (黃世銘) report and not immediately informing the Central Election Commission of the appropriate replacement on the legislator-at-large roster because it gave Wang the opportunity to mount a counterattack.
However, Ma listened to communications — due to suspicions of improper lobbying — that he should not have listened to.
When Huang met the president and made his report on what the SID had discovered, Ma — with his background in law — should have known that to receive the report and consult others on it was inappropriate and possibly illegal.
If Ma was not colluding when he denigrated the constitutional integrity of the office of president and trampled upon judicial independence, joining forces with the prosecutor-general in making a mockery of Article 44 of the Republic of China (ROC) Constitution, then what was he doing?
Is it true that Ma was not exploiting the system? The contention in the article — that Ma acted beyond reproach as KMT chairman and that his straightforward approach is what has led to internal divisions — is suspicious.
In reality, the president confused the lines between party and politics. He used the party machine as a tool to root out a legislator-at-large who did not toe the presidential line. He is unaware of the importance of staying within his clearly demarcated role as president and instead interferes in the affairs of other branches of government. He exploited the nation’s already hackneyed and corrupt political party system.
Is it true that he was not exerting undue influence? Does lobbying the judiciary count? The president did not recognize that he was acting unconstitutionally and was implicated in violations of the Communication Security and Surveillance Act (通訊保障及監察法) and the Personal Information Protection Act (個人資料保護法) in collusion with the SID. He contacted the media with details gained through these infringements of the Constitution and even conducted interviews before the prosecutors released the evidence. If this is not attempting to exert undue influence, then what is?
Is it true that Ma got himself in this political bind because of his openness and transparency? If Ma’s inner circle is not full of the arrogance and political disingenuousness of the party-state mindset, then it has double standards in how it governs “by rule of law.” For example, it subjects anyone who disagrees with it to long-term surveillance. It readily accepts the necessary legal implications of any machinations it uses to target political adversaries. The party’s double standards and maintains surveillance of dissenters, so nobody was surprised when the allegations of the SID’s illegal wiretapping were revealed.
What lessons can be drawn from Ma’s indiscretions? The long-delayed political parties act — which has yet to make it to the legislature — needs to be passed and implemented. The laws that the president, prosecutor-general and legislative speaker were all so loathe to comply with — the Surveillance Act and the Information Act — need to be scrutinized again and revised by lawmakers.
Legislative autonomy and independence is one of the core principles of a constitutional democracy and the relationship between political parties and the legislature must be protected by the Council of Grand Justices’ Interpretation 331.
Perhaps this is Ma’s final contribution, made despite himself: Revealing the beauty of having a constitution.
Liu Ching-yi is a professor in the Graduate Institute of National Development at National Taiwan University.
Translated by Paul Cooper