Last Thursday (May 13, 2010), I went to a conference at which Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jinping 王金平 was the keynote speaker. The talk was fascinating, both for what he said and for what he didn’t say. His theme was communication and negotiation. He was very candid about the give and take of negotiations, about how politics is often a fight for partisan advantage, and minority delaying tactics. He never once mentioned party discipline, a personal policy agenda, or the possibility of changing the rules.
The following are some highlights of his talk. Disclaimer: These are from my notes. I am not a professional reporter, I was not recording him, and he was not speaking in my native language, so there is a good chance that I am misinterpreting him at least some of the time. These are certainly not direct quotes.
There are three facets of policy communication. First, you must have respect for expertise. Second, you need to forge a consensus between the executive and the legislature. Third, in order to do this, you must have a good working relationship between the executive and the legislature.
It would be ideal if the executive could provide a legislative plan for its bills. First, you have to have intra-party negotiations. This includes all kinds of formal and informal negotiations at various levels. It also includes negotiations with party forces outside the official government bureaucracy. After that, you have to have party-to-party negotiations. These are usually informal.
For example, when we passed the national health insurance law, we had a full day of roll-call voting. However, this couldn’t have happened without a lot of prior communication. (Note: I think he meant that without the prior communication, they would have never even gotten to the voting and/or the voting would have been much more contentious.)
However, the executive branch doesn’t always understand what “legislative plan” means. I’m always educating them, especially with the new ones. New premiers always have a learning period to understand the importance of communication, especially Liu Zhaoxuan 劉兆玄. (Note: I’m not 100% sure he was referring to Liu Zhaoxuan.) Communication is also important for lower-level bureaucrats, not just premiers.
There was a good example of political communication in the recent American health care legislation. Even though there was a Democratic president and both houses had Democratic majorities, the bill barely passed. Obama had to do intense lobbying at the last moment. You could see that the president personally did a lot of communication and lobbying.
In the past, the Executive Yuan has sent a package of bills to the legislature at the beginning of each session, but there was no theme or direction to them. We have asked the executive to give us some kind of plan so that we can set priorities. In this session, there are two priorities: first, reviewing the budget, and second, sixteen legislative packages. He listed several of the sixteen packages, such as adjustments to several laws made necessary by recent changes in the Local Governance Law 地治法 and the Operating Tax Law 營所稅法.
Outsiders often ask why the KMT has such a hard time passing bills when it has such a large majority. A majority is only useful when you vote; any other time, the minority can stall. On [a controversial bill currently before the legislature], the DPP registered 18 speakers to discuss each clause. Each speaker gets three minutes. Before that, it takes them three minutes to walk to the podium. After their three minutes are up, the microphones are turned off, but they keep speaking, and we aren’t going to forcibly remove them. So 18 speakers take well over an hour. Then we have to vote. Then we have to revote. Then we have a motion to reconsider. So if you have 74 clauses plus general discussion… Each day, we only have six hours to do business. Actually, a lot of that time is taken up hearing reports and on other things, so we really have less than five hours for legislation. It’s not hard to stall for 100 hours. If the opposition wants to stop something, they can. Without communication or negotiation, you can’t even get to the vote. For the recent 產創條例, we changed a lot of the content to what the DPP wanted.
How do you deal with the minority? First, respect. Second, tolerance. Third, incorporate their ideas.
Back when Lian Chan 連戰 was premier, Vice-Premier Xu Lide 徐立德 and Zhao Shoubo 趙守博 were always at the Legislative Yuan, ready to communicate and negotiate. (Note: The implication was that this was a very successful model, and that no one since then has been quite as good.)
Communication is very complex. I can’t explain all of it thoroughly in such a short talk. For example, once the executive wanted to pass an unpopular bill by combining it with a popular one (the consumer stimulus certificate plan). I convinced them that this would only kill both bills.
One of my most important jobs is persuading the DPP not to always ask for a motion to reconsider. This takes a lot of party-to-party negotiations. You have to respect different opinions, and you have to incorporate their ideas.
Everyone says that legislators like to fight. We don’t like to fight. Fighting is a result of party caucuses insisting on their principals. There have been four recent cases of fighting, and all four have been about party principals. First, there was a battle about how to appoint members of the National Communications Commission (NCC). The KMT insisted that appointments the NCC board should be proportional to the party strength in the legislature. There were several instances of fighting over this, and lots of party negotiations. Finally, the DPP agreed to allow the vote, and we agreed that the result would be sent to the Council of Grand Justices to determine whether it was constitutional. Eventually, it was found unconstitutional. We passed a new law in which the members are simply nominated by the president and confirmed by the legislature. Second, there was fighting over the Three Links. Third, there was fighting about taxes for public servants. Fourth, there was fighting over the makeup of the Central Election Commission (CEC). In the past, the executive dominated the CEC. For example, in 2004 there were several controversies about how to deal with referenda, and the CEC ruled in favor of the DPP. In 2008, the KMT proposed that the CEC seats should be proportional to the parties’ strength in the legislature and the DPP protested that this was unconstitutional, just as with the NCC. There was fighting, which of course was entirely for partisan goals. After the KMT won the 2008 elections, we revisited the CEC laws. Now the president nominates and the legislature confirms. So you can see the both the KMT and DPP were struggling for their own self-interests. We don’t really like to fight.
The budget process is very complex. It’s not just the national budget. There are also special budgets and state-owned enterprises. Each party caucus has amendments on each bill, so there are over 3000 items that we have to manage. We usually sit down in an all-day bargaining session; it’s like a vegetable market! We have simplified this somewhat in recent years. At the very least, there aren’t as many party caucuses, so there aren’t as many alternatives that need to be considered. We not only have to communicate with each party caucus, we also have to communicate with each individual legislator.