Yesterday the Control Yuan voted to impeach Tainan mayor William Lai for dereliction of duty. The Local Government Act 地方制度法 requires mayors to provide an administration report and to be available for interpellations by the city council (Articles 48 and 49). However, Lai has refused to appear before the city council since he believes the speaker election was tainted by vote buying.
From here, the case goes to the Commission on the Disciplinary Sanctions of Functionaries 公務員懲戒委員會, which is under the Judicial Yuan. That commission has two choices: it can remove him from office 撤職or it can censure him 申誡. (If I understand correctly, removal is more like a suspension. After the case is resolved, it is possible to be reinstated.)
I have several thoughts about this case.
I strongly disapprove of Lai’s actions. He is the mayor. Deciding whether someone is guilty of vote buying is not part of the mayor’s portfolio. That is a job for the public prosecutors and the judicial system. Instead, Lai has appointed himself judge and jury, and (without even gathering any specific evidence) he has proclaimed the speaker guilty. He has further decided that the appropriate penalty is for the speaker to resign, and that he is justified in not appearing before the city council until that penalty is carried out. If President Ma had told Premier Jiang not to go before the legislature after the attempted purge of Speaker Wang, would that have been acceptable? Of course not. “Deity Lai” 賴神 has decided that his personal judgment that a crime has taken place transcends the judicial system’s (slow and sometimes frustrating) judgment, but that is not how a rule of law society works.
In addition to Lai, the rest of the DPP also bears responsibility. Tsai Ing-wen, the New Tide faction, Kaohsiung mayor Chen Chu, and everyone else have served as enablers. No one has publicly challenged Lai for his blatant disregard for the legal infrastructure. On the contrary, if they have spoken out, it has been to praise him.
However, while I think that Lai’s actions are unwise, contrary to the spirit of democratic governance, and detrimental to the rule of law, I’m not sure they are actually illegal. There is probably enough gray area to allow Lai to avoid a conviction. While he hasn’t physically appeared before the city council, (I believe) he has answered written interpellations and provided a written administration report. Moreover, the deputy mayor can act as the mayor’s representative. I’m simply not sure that, in the narrowest legal sense, physical presence is required.
I expect that the Discipline Commission, which is made up of senior judges, will probably come to this conclusion as well and opt for a formal censure, which is a statement of disapproval but carries no actually penalties. Personally, I think that Lai deserves a censure. (If Lai continues to boycott the city council and the Control Yuan passes another impeachment sometime in the future, the stronger penalty might be on the table.)
But enough of Lai, what about the Control Yuan’s role in this? This case is an excellent illustration of the problems with the Control Yuan. For starters, it looks like a case of partisan political persecution. The Control Yuan didn’t have anything to say about irregularities (ie: corruption) in redevelopment scandals in Taoyuan, Taipei, or New Taipei. It has decided that the Ministry of Education’s rushed procedures in the current textbook scandal are fine. It didn’t see any problems with the Special Prosecutor leaking information about Speaker Wang to President Ma for Ma to use in his purge attempt. The local government in Miaoli has borrowed well over the legal limit? No, there’s no problem there. The government used all sorts of legal trickery to give Kuo Kuan-ying – who had been found guilty of dereliction of duty – an especially generous pension. Well, certainly. What’s the connection? Those are all things the KMT did. The Control Yuan only seems concerned with looking into DPP cases, such as whether Kaohsiung Mayor Chen was guilty in some way for flooding during a typhoon. President Ma has exacerbated this partisanship with his appointments. Previous presidents, and even Ma in his first term, all paid some lip service to non-partisanship by appointing one or two people from the other side. However, this time Ma has done away with the pretence. Every member of the Control Yuan is either a blue party member or has long been identified with the blue camp. In Lai’s case, the impeachment decision was presented to the media by Zhang Kuei-mei 仉桂美. Zhang has a PhD in political science from NCCU and taught at Chinese Culture University, but the most notable part of her resume is that she seems to be very good at getting appointed to various bureaucratic commissions by various KMT administrations. As an elections junkie, I remember her for running for the legislature and National Assembly in 1995 and 1996 as a New Party candidate. Yep, a former New Party figure is the one indicting an elected DPP mayor. That sounds completely neutral.
Even if partisanship could be avoided, there is another fundamental question. Should the unelected Control Yuan (along with the unelected commission under the Judicial Yuan) be able to overturn an election? William Lai just won his race with 72% of the vote. There is no indication that Tainan residents are unhappy with him. He hasn’t been convicted of bribery, corruption, murder, or any other criminal act. He is in the midst of a subjective political controversy dealing with the balance of power between elected officials, and the unelected supervisory bodies are insisting that the political controversy should be treated narrowly as an objective legal case dealing with civil servants. It simply doesn’t make sense to me that elected politicians are lumped in with non-partisan civil servants. (To illustrate how crazy this system is, some elected officials are under the Control Yuan’s remit while others are not. The Control Yuan does not oversee members of representative bodies, such as city councils or the legislature, but it does oversee politicians elected to executive positions. The dividing line should be between politicians and civil servants, not assemblies and (anyone in any position in) executive branches.)
The Control Yuan is simply a bad idea, a relic from an authoritarian age that doesn’t make sense in a democratic society. Can we just euthanize it? Please?