Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) yesterday played a key role in a vote on a resolution to ban the import and sale of US beef following the discovery of a case of mad cow disease in California on Tuesday, a vote described by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip as a “warning sign” for the government.
The resolution, initiated by opposition parties, called for the government to order the removal of US beef from shelves, to place imported US beef under customs seal and to impose a temporary ban on imports of US beef and beef products.
“Article 5-7 of the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures allows WTO members to take provisional precautionary measures in case of insufficient scientific evidence on a food safety risk. The Indonesian government has suspended imports of US beef, but Presdent Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government has done nothing,” the resolution said.
In a rare development, about a third of KMT lawmakers were absent for the vote, even though the party had issued notices of compulsory mobilization to all its 64 legislators to attend the plenary session.
As a result, the KMT, which holds 64 of the 113 seats in the legislature, nearly lost the vote.
The first ballot, held to place the motion at the top of the agenda for discussion at the session, saw 42 “yes” and 39 “no” votes, with two “abstentions” by KMT legislators Yang Ying-hsiung (楊應雄) and Liao Cheng-ching (廖正井).
At the request of the KMT, a second vote was held, in which Wang voted “no” after the ballot saw the votes tied at 44 each, thus defeating the motion.
Before voting, Wang called a five-minute break, during which caucus whips had a negotiation meeting in a back room, while opposition lawmakers chanted “Speaker, jiayou (加油)” in a bid to win Wang over.
“I proposed holding a repeat vote, but the opposition disagreed. Therefore, I had to handle the situation [by voting on the motion myself],” Wang told reporters.
Wang said he did not vote in favor or against the content of the resolution, but voted against adding the motion to the agenda, adding that he did not violate the principle of neutrality the speaker is bound to abide by.
It was the first time he had voted in his capacity as speaker, said Wang, a seven-term legislator who has served as speaker for 13 years.
At a separate press conference, KMT caucus whip Lin Hung-chih (林鴻池) said the vote revealed a lack of consensus among party members on the controversies surrounding the mad cow issue and the government’s plan to partially ease an import ban on US beef imports containing residues of the livestock feed additive ractopamine.
“[The vote today] was a warning sign,” Lin told reporters.
Some KMT lawmakers stood outside the chamber chatting rather than going inside to vote, while some showed up, but then refused to vote when they were instructed to do so by caucus whips, and some arrived late, Lin said.
Lin would not comment on whether the party would reprimand those who failed to act as directed, but said he would look into the matter.
All opposition lawmakers were present for the vote, except for DPP Legislator Chiu Yi-ying (邱議瑩), who took the session off to receive cancer treatment, and DPP Legislator Hsu Tain-tsair (許添財), who was permitted to be absent from the vote to campaign for the party’s candidate in a township chief by-election in Lugang Township (鹿港), Changhua County, to be held today.