The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) put forward their no-confidence motion in Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) to much fanfare. The result, as expected, was a resounding victory for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), which used its majority to reject the motion by 67 votes to 45, with nobody voting against the party line.
This has been a huge boost for the previously demoralized and fractious KMT; it has done wonders for party unity. Jiang himself has come out smiling. Had it not been for the motion, he would have found it difficult to extricate himself from the ongoing constitutional issue. Now, he has the chance to start anew and can look forward to a year in the job without having to worry about another motion.
The DPP have made a strategic error. Following constitutional amendments, the premier’s nomination no longer needs ratification by the legislature. While expedient, it does mean that the influential position does not require a public mandate: His power is invested in him entirely by presidential nomination. He is the moon to the president’s sun; any glow he emits is reflected light. When the president is strong, the premier he has entrusted with running the country looks strong. When the president has no faith in him, or is himself unpopular, the premier very quickly finds it difficult to do his job. Jiang’s problem of late was his political legitimacy.
The DPP’s offensive against President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has manifested itself against Jiang. The party has prevented him from getting to the podium on the legislature floor to deliver his annual report on six occasions. This, together with the no-confidence motion, has contributed to breaking the political stalemate, allowing the premier to win the legislature’s approval and regain his legitimacy to govern.
DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the boycotts of Jiang’s report will continue despite the motion’s failure, but while the reason for the boycott remains unchanged, its political significance is different. The premier’s political slate has now been wiped clean of the opposition’s original accusations. The legislature no longer feels that the premier must resign, and by unreasonably persisting in these boycotts, the opposition is giving the KMT a chance to hit back. Soon the marginal returns for the DPP will be far smaller than the costs.
The motion was also a tactical error. The DPP said that were it not for the party whip, many more KMT legislators would have voted in favor, reflecting public opinion. In this they are wrong. The KMT legislators voted against the motion entirely of their own free will, because had it passed, there would be a strong likelihood the legislature would be dissolved and they would face another election. This would have been political suicide.
The KMT has reason to be wary of a legislative election right now. KMT legislators know they would have to go through much money and shoe leather to campaign for re-election and could still lose their seats. A vote against the motion was a vote for two more years before an election.
While many KMT legislators are unhappy with how Ma and Jiang govern, they were never going to vote against the party line. Even Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) voted against the motion. Had he not, and the legislature had been dissolved, his treasured position as speaker would have gone too.
The threshold to recall the president appears high, but KMT legislators would be less invested in the results and would be far more likely to vote against the party line in a motion to recall the president than they were with this motion.
The general public has lost faith in Ma and Jiang. The opposition needed to respond, but it should have proceeded with caution and only when it was sure it had the right strategy. The failure of this motion has not only weakened the opposition’s hand, it has also boosted the governing party. It was not worth it.