The political witch hunt that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) instigated last month against Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) has yet to be resolved, and its reverberations are being felt ever more profoundly and keenly throughout the government. Due to the allegations of illegal surveillance of Wang and the president’s involvement in the scandal, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — to which both men belong — seems to be looking to settle the matter privately, as an in-house affair.
Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us to make clear that this political turmoil and the power struggle behind it have already progressed to the point where they are no longer simply an internal KMT matter, and the general public has the right to demand the truth behind the events. The system needs to be reformed so that such political turmoil will not happen again.
First, what was Ma’s involvement?
Was he right to have held a press conference with the other two heavyweights in government, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), and directly accuse another figure with legislative powers, Wang, of improper lobbying of the judiciary, even before the case had been reviewed anywhere, including by the legislature’s internal Discipline Committee? Was the president guilty of attempting to set himself up in the role of judge, jury and executioner? And did he, with these actions, violate the Constitution and cause political chaos?
Then there is the distinction between Ma’s roles as president and as chairman of the KMT.
Ordering his party’s disciplinary mechanism, the Evaluation and Discipline Committee (考紀委員會), to revoke Wang’s party membership was tantamount to the president overtly conspiring the downfall of the legislative speaker. Does the KMT charter have precedence over the Constitution? Every president has governed in this way, ever since the initial implementation of the Constitution: They have always given their own political party highest priority. However, this leadership style, is like a wrecking ball to constitutional government. Constitutional violations cannot come to be seen as legal and constitutional simply because every president has carried them out in the past.
If the most powerful person in the country puts the interests of his party before those of the nation, we should immediately think about amending the Constitution and implementing a parliamentary system instead, so that the head of state cannot violate the Constitution by running the country on behalf of a particular party.
At the same time, we should also do away with fixed terms for presidents who wield real power and can turn a deaf ear to calls for them to step down.
Next, were surveillance and monitoring powers abused?
This abuse was the most heinous crime to come out when this whole sorry affair broke, and demonstrates that the days of the KMT employing Stasi-like tactics to govern the country are far from over.
When Ma first came to power he announced there would be no more wiretapping. This has been proven to be a lie. At this point, a simple apology from Ma would fall short. Concrete action must be taken to guarantee there will be no more abuse of surveillance powers.
Third, how did Jiang err?
One of the tenets of the constitutional government system is that the legislative branch supervises, and provides checks and balances for, the executive branch. It absolutely goes without saying that the executive branch should respect the legislature. When Jiang became involved in Ma’s conspiracy, he read the transcript of wiretapping conducted as part of an ongoing investigation and joined Ma at the aforementioned press conference. Even though he did not speak at this public event, his presence was sufficient to convey his complicity.
The other day Jiang was at pains to say that he had made no unseemly comments about the legislative speaker, and had meant no disrespect to the legislature. Nevertheless, on the past four or five occasions that he has entered the legislative debating chamber, he has not made eye contact with Wang, and has certainly not greeted him or exchanged civilities with him. This is quite at odds with the conventional etiquette of such occasions, when the head of the executive branch has entered the legislature, it is tradition to greet the head of the legislature. Again, it was his manner that let him down, and which betrayed far more derision for the legislative branch than bad-mouthing the speaker could have. It is of little consequence whether Jiang himself comes or goes, but the public has a right to know whether members of the Ma administration, either in its current manifestation or in later ones, respects the legislature, or whether it just views the Legislative Yuan as the place that churns out the laws it needs.
Now, what about the prosecutor-general?
The events of the last month substantially reveal the fact that Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) has essentially been serving as the president’s hatchet man.
Huang as prosecutor-general answers not to the president, but to far higher ideals: He answers to the law, to Heaven, to God, even. However, not to the president. He was nominated by the president, and given his position by the president, his nomination having been ratified by the legislature. However, all of this was just procedure, and in no way gives cause for the president to expect the prosecutor-general to report to him about individual cases. If it were other officials nominated by the president would also have to report directly to him. The very idea is preposterous.
Two days after allegations were made, Jiang forced then-minister of justice, Tseng Yung-fu (曾勇夫), from office. Why is it that Huang, who was implicated in the abuse of his powers and accused of breaking the law, remains in his post? With Ma and Wang finding it impossible to reconcile their differences, everything is being done in private.
Finally, was the Central
Election Commission (CEC) acting properly?
It is of paramount importance that the CEC remains impartial. However, in this last month we have seen CEC Chairwoman Chang Po-ya (張博雅) side with Ma in his campaign to oust Wang. Article 6 of the Organic Law of the Central Election Commission (中央選舉委員會組織法) lists the matters which are to be approved by the full committee. No. 4 on that list cites “processes of major dispute case(s) processing.” Chang proceeded without regard for due process according to the organic act pertaining to her own organization.
Within one or two hours she had issued a document to the legislature, revoking Wang’s qualifications as legislative speaker, and thereby making the storm worse and further endangering social stability. How are we to understand Chang’s part in all this?
Huang made a detailed report to Ma, quite at odds with the law. Regardless, whether Wang and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) conspired to influence the judiciary was an executive matter, not a legal one, and should have been dealt with by the legislature’s Discipline Committee. Ma went on to accuse Wang of attempting to exercise improper influence over the judiciary, and the general public bought into it.
However, the public have a right to see whether the legislature’s Discipline Committee launches an investigation and deals with the allegations in the proper way. Further, both Ker and the legislative speaker should cooperate with the committee’s probe.
The nation has already paid a huge price because of this turmoil, and we need to be compensated in full if we are to recover from the blow that has been dealt. The matter is not for Ma, Wang and the KMT to sort out in private. It is a national matter, not an internal party matter. They cannot be allowed to get away with this, and keep hold of their power and influence. We need answers.
Shih Ming-teh is a former Democratic Progressive Party chairman.
Translated by Paul Cooper