Archive for the ‘government posts’ Category

technocrats and electoral reform

January 17, 2012

In the aftermath of the elections, everyone is scrambling to determine which seats are empty and who should fill them.  I don’t have much to say now about those choices except that most media reports suggest the new Premier and Vice Premier will be Chen Chong 陳沖 and Chiang Yi-hua 江宜華 (currently Vice Premier and Interior Minister), a couple of technocrats.  I want politicians!  Look, I understand that the Ma is worried about the international financial markets, but didn’t he learn his lesson before with Liu Chao-hsuan 劉兆玄?  The Premier needs to be good at political communication, not just good at understanding public policy.  [Frozen Garlic is probably the only voice arguing for more 政客!]

 

Speaker Wang Jin-pyng 王金平 made my day today by suggesting that electoral reform might be a good idea.  I love this guy!  He is worried by the disproportionality of the current system, the fact that it crushes small parties, and, most of all, that the blue areas are becoming bluer and the green areas are becoming greener.  He probably feels this personally, since the KMT incumbent in his hometown got swept away in the local DPP tide.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, I absolutely hate the current system.  Almost anything would be better, including going back to the old system.  The DPP’s preferred option is a MMP (mixed member proportional; for details, see the linked essay) system.  However, after watching the DPP’s debacle in determining its party list this year, I don’t think an MMP system would be the best choice for Taiwan?  What would be the best choice?  I believe an Open List Proportional Representation system would fit the bill almost perfectly.

I’m not going to get too excited, though.  While the Liberty Times report was very positive, the United Daily News report was much more reserved.  Lots of people in the KMT like the current system since they believe it works for their party and for them personally.  As they [reasonably] point out, the DPP was the party that insisted on the change in 2005.  Now that the DPP has lost a couple of elections under the system, it has decided that maybe this system isn’t so great.  In other words, you got what you wished for, so now you have to live with it.  [I will never forgive Lin Yi-hsiung 林義雄 for this disastrous electoral system.]

 

One thing the DPP has discussed is asking the Council of Grand Justices to rule whether the current electoral system violates the constitutional principle of each vote being equal.  I don’t like this idea at all.  The electoral system is written in the constitution.  It can’t be unconstitutional if it is in the constitution.  I certainly don’t want unelected judges to decide which part of the constitution is more constitutional than some other part of the constitution.  If you want to change the constitution, don’t take the lazy route and rely on judges.  That would set a very dangerous precedent.  The solution has to come through the political process of amending the constitution.

odds and ends

March 30, 2010

A few unrelated thoughts.

Premier Wu Dunyi 吳敦義 seems to have settled into his job.  During his first couple of months with American beef and the like, it seemed to me that he wouldn’t last a full year.  The last two or three months, though, he seems much more in command.  I’m moving him from zombie status (effectively dead but still stumbling around) up to vampire status (he has arisen from his coffin, dressed up nicely, and has an outside shot at seducing the beautiful electorate).  (Maybe I should lay off the analogies.)

I watched an hourlong one on one interview with Yang Qiuxing 楊秋興 on TV last night.  I came away with the impression of Yang as a sincere, hardworking, and simple guy who knows everything about agriculture and not much about anything else.  All he could talk about was farmers, farming, growing up on a farm, marketing farm produce, and how ECFA would be bad for farmers.  Fine, but aren’t there a few people in Greater Kaohsiung who are not farmers?  (It reminded me of Bob Kerry running for the Democratic nomination for president in 1992: his answer to every question, from nuclear arsenals to education policy to tax reform was health care, health care, health care.)  The other thing that struck me about the interview was the three minutes in which he talked about how intense the primary campaign has been.  He downplayed it completely, saying he didn’t think it was that bad at all, that he was just providing information to the party central office about all those abuses, and that he and Chen Ju 陳菊 would certainly cooperate to support the winner.  There must have been a serious backlash against his earlier tactics.  Also, Cai Yingwen’s 蔡英文 gambit — telling him to cool it — has paid off.  I think he is changing courses because the strident strategy didn’t work, but she will get some credit for refereeing and keeping the competition under control.

Liu Quanzhong 劉銓忠 has announced he is running for Taichung mayor.  Liu is a legislator with decades of political experience, the younger brother of former legislative speaker Liu Songfan 劉松藩, and, most importantly, one of the most senior leaders in the Taichung County Red Faction.  This means that both the Red and Black factions have someone contesting the nomination.  It is still nearly unthinkable that anyone other than Jason Hu 胡志強 is going to win the nomination, so why are they fighting an unwinnable fight?  I think I have overlooked how becoming a direct municipality is going to affect local factions.  Control of budgets is the lifeblood of local factions.  Currently, they prosper when they control the county executive, and they build grassroots strength by winning township mayors, agricultural and irrigation cooperatives, and county assembly seats.  The two biggest pillars, county executives and township mayors, will be disappearing after this year.  Of course, if they could win the Greater Taichung mayorship with its enormous budget, all would be peachy.  So even though the odds are slim, there is probably tremendous grassroots pressure to try.  From that angle, Ma would be foolish to give in.  He has a chance to end the Faustian bargain with Taichung local factions.  There might be a cost in votes in 2012, but he will never have a better chance to deal the local factions a fatal blow.

Why did Wang have to go?

March 12, 2010

Minister of Justice Wang Qingfeng 王清峰 was forced to resign over her refusal to carry out executions; she is against the death penalty.  Public opinion is firmly in favor of retaining the death penalty, and a large number of KMT legislators, the Premier, and the President all took the position that, until the law is changed, the Minister of Justice must carry out whatever sentences the judicial system produces, including the death penalty.

I do not think this episode has very much to do with the death penalty or some principle of carrying out the law.  I think this is all about politics.  For some reason (and I’m not clear what this is), Wang was not being a team player.  I think the president ordered a purge, and it has been orchestrated brilliantly.

Let’s review the episode.  This whole thing started a couple of days ago when KMT legislator Wu Yusheng 吳育昇 brought it up in an interpellation.  Wu is one of President Ma’s 馬英九 closest associates in the legislature; he was part of Ma’s “little cabinet” while Ma was Taipei City mayor.  Wang clarified her position the next day, setting out a very strong line.  She is not going to sign any execution orders.  Yesterday, a large number of KMT legislators held press conferences criticizing her position and calling for her to resign.  Actress Bai Bingbing 白冰冰 was a featured guest and outspoken critic in these press conferences.[i] The United Daily News also had a poll, featured on the front page, that showed 74% support the death penalty and 51% thought Wang should resign.  After insisting that no Minister of Justice anywhere in the world had been forced to resign because of opposition to the death penalty, Wang changed her mind and offered her resignation last night.  Premier Wu 吳敦義 took all of seven minutes to decide to accept the resignation.

Wang is against the death penalty for human rights reasons, and she believes it is a worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty.[ii] As such, she has not signed any orders to carry out executions since she became Minister of Justice two years ago.  Now, this has hardly been a radical position before the past couple of days.  While Ma signed off on dozens of executions while he was Justice Minister in the mid-1990s, he has also stated that he is against the death penalty and would like to see it abolished.  The Minister of Justice from 2005-2008 didn’t sign any execution orders for the same reason as Wang is giving, so there was presumably already a backlog of people waiting to be executed.  In 2008, when Ma appointed her, he apparently wasn’t too anxious to have all those people executed.  And while the government spokesperson yesterday insisted that she couldn’t simply commute the sentences, that there was a proper procedure for that.  In fact she was not actually commuting sentences; she was merely delaying the executions.  These people all still carry death sentences, and they can be executed tomorrow if the paperwork is signed.  So that was a nice sleight of hand by the government spokesman.

Still, the most important reason I don’t think this whole episode is really about the death penalty is that no one cares about the death penalty.  It simply isn’t an important issue.  Sure, 74% are for it, but we have opinions on lots of things that we don’t really care about.  You could also do a poll on whether motorcycle helmet laws should be enforced more strictly, whether the Central Cross-Island Highway should be re-opened, or the Jilong City government should take over management of Jilong Harbor.  You would get some distribution of opinions on all of them, but none of them really matter in the big picture.  These opinions simply aren’t as important as opinions about Taiwan’s relations with China, the extent and execution of disaster relief after natural disasters, how to fund universal health care, food safety, corruption, and the other dominant questions in Taiwanese politics.  Other than Bai Bingbing and a handful of activists on either side, there simply aren’t many people who think that the death penalty is an important issue.

So why was Wang forced out?  Given the carefully orchestrated events, which have the KMT leadership’s fingerprints all over them, I can only concluded that President Ma, Premier Wu, and/or Secretary-General Jin 金浦聰 decided that they wanted her out.  I think this probably starts with Jin, who then got Ma to sign off on it.  Jin was probably also the puppetmaster.

Wang has never been a party insider.  She is a social activist, who made her name as a lawyer with great character, honesty, and morals.  She was one of the main figures pushing for justice for comfort women, and she was Chen Lu-an’s 陳履安 running mate in the 1996 presidential election.  Chen’s campaign was based on his moral authority.  In 2008, Ma tapped Wang as Justice Minister and got a figure whose moral standing was beyond reproach.  I think this is part of Ma’s pro-governance, anti-politics philosophy.  If you simply put good people into office, they will make good policies.  The flaw in this philosophy is that (good, honest, incorruptible) people disagree (for honest, moral, and rational reasons).  Just because the official is a good person does not mean that he or she will produce policies that you think are good.  I think a political logic is far more effective than this governance logic.  In a political logic, you bind people together to a common platform by means of a party (which needs the platform to make mass appeals and construct a loyal support base).  Any party member, regardless of their personal morals, is then bound to implement a policy that is consistent with the party’s interests.[iii] My guess is that Ma is slowly coming around to understanding the importance of party politics.  The fact that he has to face the possibility of losing in 2012 (never really a possibility in 2002 or 2008) probably has something to do with that.  Wang was probably acting as a non-partisan Minister of Justice, not as a KMT Minister of Justice.  (Note: This is the weak point in my argument.  I don’t know what they would have been dissatisfied with.)  With important elections coming up over the next two years, they probably wanted a team player at the helm of the Justice Department.

If the scenario that I am laying out is correct, then the most important thing about this episode has nothing to do with the death penalty.  Rather, Ma is finally consolidating power.  He started his term by granting power to lots of people.  These were grants, not delegations.  He simply gave people power and let them exercise it as they saw fit.  He did not delegate power with specific instructions to follow or goals to pursue.  He did not keep a tight rein on that power and withdraw it whenever someone did something he didn’t like.  The first year of his administration was marked by Lien Chan 連戰, Wu Boxiong 吳伯雄, and various other KMT figures running amok.  I think Ma realized that this does not work and is slowly grabbing the power back.  Becoming party chair was important, but bringing Jin Pucong back as his hatchet man was more important.  Slowly, he seems to be transforming the KMT into a one-headed beast, something it has not been since the late-1990s.  This bodes well for Ma’s re-election prospects.  Unfortunately for him, this process is really two years too late.  When he was elected in 2008, Ma was far more popular than his party, and he could have demanded that everyone follow him.  That Ma Yingjeou would have been able to concentrate power and do anything he wanted.  Now that his popularity has waned, he will not be able to consolidate power in the same way.  He also will not be able to demand that his party follow him.  To give an illustration of what this means in practical terms, imagine how the American beef issue would have played out in 2008 with power concentrated around Ma.  He would have demanded that KMT legislators vote as instructed, and they would not have dared to oppose him.  That is no longer the case and won’t be the case even if he continues to consolidate power.  His window has closed quite a bit.

There is also a certain irony in this episode.  A little more than a decade ago, the KMT forced another Justice Minister out because he had been cracking down on vote-buying among (mostly KMT) county assembly members (and corruption and organized crime more generally).  The KMT could not stomach this attack on its grassroots machine, and demanded the Justice Minister be replaced with someone who would be more of a team player.  That idealistic Justice Minister was, of course, Ma Yingjeou.


[i] Bai’s daughter was murdered in sensational kidnapping case in 1997, and she was insistent that the kidnappers be executed.  (They were, eventually.)  There’s a lot more to this story, but that’s a different essay.

[ii] This is a terrible defense of her position.  You have to get a little more specific than that.  Some vague reference to human rights is never going to win a public debate.

[iii] If you haven’t guessed, Frozen Garlic has a strong bias toward party politics.  This little paragraph doesn’t even begin to explore the reasons for that bias.