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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times KMT, TPP test limits of democracy

KMT, TPP test limits of democracy

A bill forced through the Legislative Yuan on May 28 by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) lawmakers to expand the legislature’s power is procedurally unjust. The package of amendments to the Act Governing the Legislative Yuan’s Power (立法院職權行使法) would prohibit government officials from counter-questioning legislators, create a “contempt of the legislature” offense and increase the body’s investigative and examination powers. The changes would even require the president to immediately answer any legislators’ questions after delivering a “state of the nation” report at the Legislative Yuan. The reforms are widely regarded as an excessive expansion of the legislature’s power and an infringement of human rights.

On Thursday last week, when the Executive Yuan gave seven reasons to veto the amendments on the grounds that they would be difficult to implement, the opposition parties responded by dodging the important issues while pushing forward other controversial bills. More disturbingly, they also rejected a bill on self-regulation proposed by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators. As a result, the legislature would have little to restrain it, and it seems to be rapidly changing into a powerful monster.

The chaos in the Legislative Yuan, instigated by the KMT and TPP, is challenging the public’s bottom line for democracy.

The bill aimed at expanding the legislature’s powers highlights the opposition’s pigheaded “pass first, talk later” attitude.

At a news conference on May 23, before the bill’s passage, a reporter from Germany’s state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle asked KMT Legislator Wu Tsung-hsien (吳宗憲), the convener of the Legislative Yuan’s Judiciary and Organic Laws and Statutes Committee, to clearly define what is meant by “counter-questioning.” Wu’s vague response was that the KMT would “explain it to the public after the law is passed.”

If even Wu — a former prosecutor, a legal professional and convener of the judiciary committee — was unable to give a clear explanation, where does that leave the other legislators who voted for the bill?

Provisions in the legislation have also been criticized for being too crude.

For example, the bill stipulates that no counter-questioning is allowed, but the fine for officials who break this rule is not specified in New Taiwan dollars. The maximum fine of “$200,000” could be taken to mean “silver dollars,” which would be the equivalent of NT$600,000 (US$18,605).

The bill also infringes on human rights by requiring legal entities, organizations or related personnel to provide documents, information and files to the legislature. This could involve private documents, trade secrets or patent rights.

Another provision stipulates that a member of the public can only ask for a lawyer to be present with the consent of the chairperson of the meeting. That makes it look even more like the legislature is establishing a private interrogation chamber.

KMT and TPP legislators are giving the Legislative Yuan a full set of sharp teeth, but the public fears this beast would bite at random and attack the wrong people.

Chaotic incidents as a result of the legislature’s expanded powers are likely to become more serious.

When the bill passed its third reading, the Control Yuan declared that some of its provisions did not fall within the framework permitted by the Constitution or that of judgements by the Constitutional Court.

It also said the legislative procedure was incomplete and the bill ran contrary to the separation of powers. The supervisory powers of investigation and examination provided for in the Constitution are exclusive to the Control Yuan, meaning that the legislature’s expanded powers might interfere with them, a view widely held by legal experts.

The Control Yuan’s statement infuriated the KMT and TPP legislative caucus conveners, who responded by calling for the body to be abolished.

However, instead of seeking to amend the Constitution to reduce the branches of government from five to three, the opposition legislators threatened to freeze the Control Yuan’s budget, which would force it to suspend operations.

In addition, some KMT legislators signed a draft “act governing the actions of members of the Control Yuan” (監察委員行為法) stipulating that Control Yuan members who act contrary to the terms of the bill be fined up to NT$6 million. Control Yuan members called it a “reckless proposal” that ignores the division of powers among the five branches of government.

As if that were not enough, some KMT members suggested that if the Constitutional Court issued a judgement that deemed the bill unconstitutional, the Legislative Yuan could suspend the Judicial Yuan’s budget, of which the Constitutional Court is a part.

The opposition parties are clearly using the Legislative Yuan to override the Control Yuan and the Judicial Yuan, thus eroding the separation of powers.

When it comes to the Executive Yuan, the KMT and TPP are trying to grab money as well as power.

KMT caucus convener Fu Kun-chi (傅?萁) took the lead in proposing a set of bills on transportation infrastructure in Hualien and Taitung counties that would require a budget of NT$2 trillion.

The proposal has sparked controversy as the immense budget would leave little money left for other important construction projects. It has also drawn criticism from environmental groups who say that such a massive construction project would damage the environment.

Importantly, Fu’s bills stipulate that the government would prepare the budget, which constitutes an obvious interference by the legislature into the executive branches’ powers.

The Constitution states that the Legislative Yuan may not propose any increase of expenditure in the budgetary bill proposed by the Executive Yuan. This provision is to prevent unlimited expansion of the government’s budget.

As it turns out, the opposition parties are not only failing to restrain government spending, but are trying to do just the opposite.

Critics say that the losers in the elections are writing checks that the winners have to pay for, and it is getting out of hand. The people behind the construction bills are obviously greedy. Even some members of the KMT are unhappy about its effect on funding for other counties and cities.

Moreover, the KMT is pushing for amendments to the Act Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures (財政收支劃分法) that would shift some of the central government’s fiscal powers to local governments. Before that happens, the bills for Hualien and Taitung counties could first devour the construction funds of other areas, which would defeat the purpose of the localized budget allocation.

The KMT’s Central Standing Committee has now decided to delay deliberation on the construction bills, or else it would have to “defuse the bomb” by handling them separately, thus preventing the party from being thrown into disarray if it fails to secure the funding.

President William Lai (賴清德), who is also DPP chairman, told party members on Wednesday last week that the bills jointly proposed by the KMT and the TPP had aroused a lot of doubt among the public.

The opposition parties would not just propose a few bills, but would come up with a lot more in the coming years, so the DPP must face the problem seriously and rationally, he said.

Lai said to look at the legislative disorder and how the opposition parties are expanding their power with the aim of replacing the five branches of government with just one — the Legislative Yuan.

Some KMT members predict that once the current slate of bills go into effect, the next thing on the opposition parties’ agenda would be to deal with the Anti-Infiltration Act (反滲透法) by relaxing controls under the act, which China sees as a thorn in its side. If that happens, the Chinese Communist Party would certainly be able to infiltrate Taiwan easily and on a large enough scale to alter the cross-strait situation in its favor.

In January’s presidential and legislative elections, voters chose to once again put the DPP in the executive branch, but split their votes so that none of the three main parties won a majority in the legislature. Voters probably hoped that a diverse Legislative Yuan would exercise stronger supervision over the president. Instead the opposition parties have joined hands to enrich themselves and unduly expand their power, which is harming democracy and Taiwan.

The legislature, which should embody pluralistic democracy, has become an anti-democratic entity monopolized by the opposition parties. Wave after wave of protests and the brewing actions to recall legislators reflect society’s overall sense of crisis. If the KMT and TPP fail to heed public opinion, and if they go on acting willfully and challenging the public’s bottom line, wantonly expanding their power and causing democracy to backtrack, they are sure to be hit by a huge backlash in the next election.

Translated by Julian Clegg

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/06/11

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