disciplining Luo

One of the big stories in today’s news is that the KMT is making noise about disciplining one of its party list legislators.

The legislator in question is Luo Shulei 羅淑蕾, a former PFP member.  Luo is a nightly presence on the evening talk shows, and is famous for her eagerness to criticize the KMT leadership.  She is often more critical than DPP politicians, and she is quite good at saying things in a quotable way.  For example, when KMT secretary general Jin Pucong 金溥聰hired a new person who resigned within days due to ethical problems, Luo said that Jin thought he had dug up a treasure, but instead he dug up a pile of shit.  For the last two years, Luo has been spewing out a nearly constant stream of these types of statements.

As you might imagine, there has been quite a bit of grumbling from other KMT members.  Luo is, after all, a party list legislator.  Perhaps the dominant vision of what a party legislator should do is to exclusively pursue party goals.  That is, party list legislators should push forward the party bills in the legislature and they should defend the party line in public.  Since their seat is given to them by the party, they do not have a mandate of their own.  This is quite different from list legislators, who after all are elected by the voters in their districts.  If they disagree with the party, they can reasonably claim to be listening to their voters.  Moreover, parties have the ultimate disciplinary tool for list legislators.  If a list legislator loses her party membership, she also loses her seat in the legislature.  (Parties cannot strip district legislators cannot be stripped of their seats.)  So there have been calls for nearly all of the last two years for the KMT to force Luo to shut up or take her seat away, but they have not been seriously pursued.  That might be changing now.

Jin Pucong is suggesting that there is enormous grassroots pressure on him to do something about Luo.  He hasn’t said anything about disciplining her yet, but he said that he might invite her to go with him to meet some grassroots supporters, since party list legislators don’t know anything about how actual elections work (nice condescending touch!).  The message is unmistakable: shut up or else.

What I like about this story is that it conforms almost exactly to how political scientists think about party discipline.  In the British and American systems, the person in charge of enforcing party discipline is called the “whip.”  This conjures up an image of a tyrant forcing the rank-and-file to do his bidding, regardless of what they want.  That is not how party discipline works.  Parties are only disciplined to the extent that the large numbers of members (the rank-and-file) want to impose collective discipline on themselves.  They simply empower a leader to enforce that collective discipline (that they want).

In this case, most KMT members have been very unhappy about Luo’s actions.  However, the leadership has failed them.  President Ma ran a very loose ship for the first two years, allowing individual members to do or say pretty much anything with no fear of consequences.  When Ma brought Jin back into power three months ago, it was significant because Ma gave Jin the power to sanction bad behavior (as defined by the great majority of KMT members).  After a lousy two years, Ma is finally starting to understand the logic of democratic politics.

There was a counter-example in one of the stories that illustrates this perfectly.   During last year’s furor over American beef, KMT legislator Huang Yijiao 黃義交 took the lead in criticizing the government’s policy, writing a bill that would undercut the deal negotiated with the USA, and pushing that bill through the legislature.  No one wanted to discipline Huang Yijiao for this.  His actions had quite a lot of support both from KMT voters and other KMT legislators.  He was opposing the cabinet, but he was not clearly acting against the entire party and its interests, as defined by the overwhelming majority of the rank-and-file.  In this case, there was no clear KMT position; different KMT members had different ideas.  Enforcing discipline would have been very difficult and very controversial.

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