As was to be expected, and without a single exception, legislators voted in their own interests and with the party line in the no-confidence motion against the Cabinet last week.
As it stands, the constitutional government system in this country is utterly incapable of resolving the current crisis or ongoing partisanship.
Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) was right when he said on the eve of the vote that he was not responsible for violating the Constitution and causing the turmoil. Throughout the history of the nation’s constitutional government, it has always been the party chairman that has been responsible for such transgressions.
From Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), presidents have doubled as party chairman. They have all — in violation of the Constitution — used their position as party chairman to exercise power over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, thereby violating the principle of separation of powers. Former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) read from the same playbook after the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) came to power.
Before 1997, the Constitution endorsed a form of government more like a parliamentary system. However, after the removal of the stipulation that the premier be approved by the legislature, the system changed to be more like a dual-executive, semi-presidential system. In practice, Taiwan has always had a “super-presidential” system. Even during the eight years that Chen was in office, when the opposition had a legislative majority, he was still able to get what he wanted — legislators have a price, disagreements can be worked out.
Unfortunately, power corrupts and presidents always want more power. The way they have attained it is by taking on the chairmanship.
Article 35 of the Constitution states: “The President shall be the head of the state.”
More colloquially, the president is “the man.” He is the physical embodiment of state power, the protector of justice in the country. Someone must occupy that office at all times. When former US president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, then-vice president Lyndon Johnson was sworn in on Air Force One. A country cannot be without a leader.
Nevertheless, no matter how powerful the president, his authority is always derived from the Constitution. All of Taiwan’s presidents have believed this constitutionally conferred power to be insufficient and have felt the need to augment it. Last month’s strife broke out when Ma attempted, in his capacity as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman, to oust Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平). This is an example of the power of a party chairman.
When Ma departed from the Presidential Office and was driven to KMT headquarters, did he switch roles and become party chairman as he stepped out of the car? If so, did Ma the president cease to exist for the duration of his stay? Did the vice president automatically take over? If Ma continued to hold the position of president, how was he able to direct the party’s Evaluation and Disciplinary Committee and not breach the Constitution?
The reason that presidents have wanted to double as party chairman, in addition to extending and being able to abuse their power, was for the access it grants to party resources. The KMT has prodigious party assets and Ma is only able to get his mitts on the party coffers because he is the party chairman.
The DPP does not have the same assets, and the president is not allowed to raise funds. However, as DPP party chairman, Chen was able to receive donations and then use his influence as president to benefit the person or group that provided the funds. He could say the money was a “political donation” and not a bribe. The multiplication of official capacities is useful for politicians wanting to bend the rules.
Constitutional violations and illegal actions must be stamped out. The president cannot be allowed to cover for the transgressions of the party chairman, which threatens the collapse of the constitutional system. Just because presidents have always acted this way, that does not mean they should continue to do so.
Ma should immediately resign as KMT chairman.
Shih Ming-teh is a former Democratic Progressive Party chairman.
Translated by Paul Cooper