The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus’ failure to pass bills earmarked as priority legislature by the Executive Yuan in the recently concluded legislative session, despite having a nearly three-quarters majority in the legislature, has received a mixed reaction from political analysts.
Some blamed KMT headquarters, the party’s legislative caucus and the executive branch for a lack of synchronization, while others were unsurprised because in a democracy the legislative branch is not always at the executive branch’s back.
“The Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan, KMT headquarters and the KMT caucus appeared to be four isolated entities failing to act together in the legislative process,” said Chen Chao-jian (陳朝建), an assistant professor of public affairs at Ming Chuan University.
On June 16, the legislature went into summer recess, having failed to pass nearly half of the 50 bills on the Cabinet’s priority list submitted when the session commenced in February.
In a last-minute push, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) singled out nine major bills before leaving for Central America on May 26. Only four had passed through the legislature by the end of the session.
Defending legislative efficiency, KMT caucus whip Lin Yi-shih (林益世) said the legislature completed review of 134 bills, “the highest number in a single session over the past seven years.”
Among the bills passed were an amendment to the Civil Code (民法) that tackles inherited debt and the enactment of the Act Governing Development of Renewable Energy (再生能源發展條例) setting up measures to encourage the generation of green energy.
Despite these, Chen said more bills could have been dealt with considering the KMT caucus’ majority in the legislature.
“Apparently, the KMT caucus did not make every effort to support the Presidential Office and Executive Yuan,” Chen said. “It should be a piece of cake for the KMT caucus to pass as many bills as the Executive Yuan wants.”
Another example was the amendment to the Act for the Punishment of Corruption (貪汙治罪條例).
The Executive Yuan’s original version suggested that all civil servants failing to explain the sources of their incomes should face prosecution. However, at the insistence of some KMT lawmakers, the revised act saw only officials indicted on corruption charges subject to the new rules.
Bills that were high priority for the Executive Yuan and ended up being stalled included one to streamline the structure of the government, one to attract multinationals to set up logistics centers in Taiwan, amendments to allow Chinese students to study in the country and another to prevent double taxation of Taiwanese businesses in China.
“The way KMT lawmakers performed was out of step with the administration. They didn’t think that the Executive Yuan’s priority bills were very urgent,” said Frank Liu (劉正山), an associate professor at National Sun Yat-sen University’s Institute of Political Science.
Liu said the result showed no one at KMT headquarters capable of making lawmakers follow party orders, which was why Ma wanted the chairmanship.
Having lawmakers act in accord with what the Executive Yuan wants should be the responsibility of KMT Chairman Wu Po-hsiung (吳伯雄), but it seemed that Wu has been coordinating cooperation between the caucus and the executive half-heartedly, Liu said.
“In the single-member district, every lawmaker would prefer to spend their time on constituency and not legislative affairs. When Ma becomes KMT chairman, he will become a power broker having the final say in primary matters and thus he can influence how lawmakers vote,” Liu said.
Chao Yung-mao (趙永茂), a political science professor at National Taiwan University, said he doubted whether Ma would be able to turn the situation around.
“Whether [Ma] can have KMT lawmakers act as his backup depends on whether he is determined enough to push his policy agenda. In the first year of his presidency, Ma didn’t show a positive attitude toward this subject,” Chao said.
Chao said the KMT administration could have done better in establishing rules and regulations that would help eradicate corruption and waste of public resources, which remain serious problems in some localities and departments of the central government.
“Building a clean government is a major plank of Ma’s campaign. The KMT caucus deserves criticism for failing to deliver on Ma’s campaign promises, so does the Executive Yuan as it failed to propose bills to tackle ‘black-gold,’” Chao said.
What was passed in the legislature instead was an amendment to the Statute for Giving Expenditures to Local Deputies and Giving Subsidies to Village and Ward Chiefs (地方民意代表費用支給及村里長事務補助條例) that significantly raised payment for local politicians, which has long been criticized for being spent in a discretionary way, he said.
From the perspective of the impact of legislation on the public, Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), chairman of Citizen Congress Watch, said the legislative branch is not supposed to be “a bureau under the executive branch in the first place.”
“In a democracy, the relationship between executive and legislature should be defined as one of checks and balances. If the legislature has to take orders from the executive to show that the KMT is in complete control, it is authoritarian thinking,” Ku said.
Ku said a high level of legislative efficiency could be dangerous as it might mean that a bill could be passed without being deliberated thoroughly, citing the example of the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials (公務人員行政中立法).
A group of academics recently criticized the legislation for infringing the rights of public officials to participate in political activities, urging the legislature to amend it.
As the Act was mostly based on the Cabinet’s version, they received a cool response from KMT lawmakers that “the appeal should be presented to the Executive Yuan.”
“If the legislature does everything the Executive Yuan asks it to do, what’s its purpose?” Ku said.
Ku said some KMT lawmakers’ willingness to incorporate the opinions of activists in the ongoing process of revising the Executive Yuan-proposed amendment to the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) showed that the legislature’s role should be to better serve the public and not the executive.
Wang Yeh-lih (王業立), a political science professor at National Taiwan University, shared Ku’s views.
Wang said: “In a mature democracy government is not supposed to do whatever it likes by dint of its dominance in the legislature without respect for dissenting voices.”
Ma taking over as KMT chairman will only be meaningful if he can establish a platform for the Executive Yuan to regularly engage in constructive dialogue with not only KMT lawmakers, but also the Democratic Progressive Party before formulating its policies, Wang said.
“Ma has to realize that in a democracy it is unacceptable that the legislature function as a rubber stamp for his administrative decrees,” Wang said.
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