Archive for the ‘judicial system’ Category

Mayor Lai is impeached

August 5, 2015

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?

“The courts are run by the KMT”

September 18, 2013

When the Taipei District Court handed down its ruling last Friday, Ma’s lawyer made an interesting comment to the press.  In his disappointment with the news, he turned to the reporters and said something to the effect of, “I hope no one ever says the courts are run by the KMT again.”  This was a reference to an infamous statement from about 20 years ago.  Hsu Li-teh 徐立德, who was then Vice-Premier, Hsu Shui-teh 許水德, who was then KMT Secretary-General, told KMT members not to worry about the legal consequences of their actions because, after all, “the courts are run by the KMT 法院是國民黨開的。”   The courts have done little to dispel this notion over the past 20 years.  Again and again, KMT members seem to acquitted or given very light sentences while DPP members seem to get the harshest treatment possible under the law.

While Ma lost his case last week, that single case does very little to persuade me that the KMT is not improperly influencing the courts.  On the one hand, one senior KMT figure lost to another KMT figure.  Does that prove that the courts don’t give special treatment to the KMT?  On the other hand, the pattern we have seen over the years is that the KMT loses in the lower courts and wins in the upper courts.  Judges in the lower courts are much harder to control.  They tend to be more recent graduates of law school and are trained in the latest legal theories and are more idealistic.  The KMT loses lots of vote-buying cases in the lower courts because the judges there tend to be more honest (or so the theory goes).  In the higher courts, things are different.  The judges have been around a little longer and are less idealistic and more political.  This is probably a selection effect, with the politically reliable ones getting promoted.  The higher up the court system you go, the more political the court supposedly is.  So it isn’t surprising that Ma lost in the lower court.  Experience tells us that the higher courts will be more sympathetic to his arguments.  Today, right on cue, High Court judges were randomly assigned to the case.  Wang had asked for a public lottery, but the court insisted on doing it through a random computer process.  Magically, the lead judge is married to a senior KMT figure who actually ran for the legislature under the KMT banner many years ago.  The talk shows are abuzz questioning whether the assignment was really random.

Ironically, Ma insists that this whole case is about preventing political interference in the judicial system.  Indeed, that is a problem.  If the public really believed that Ma and the KMT were sincere about trying to prevent that from ever happening again, they would almost certainly enjoy enthusiastic public support.  As it is, Ma’s lofty rhetoric juxtaposed with the actual record of court decisions favorable to the KMT merely serves to remind people of just how little the KMT actually seems to want an independent judiciary.

legal and constitutional arguments

September 18, 2013

On Friday, the Taipei District Court issued an injunction temporarily stopping the KMT from revoking Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s party membership.  I tried to write about it then, but I didn’t finish any coherent ideas before leaving on a mini-vacation with a bad internet connection.  That was probably fortunate, since I’ve had a chance to think about things before I write them.

I originally thought the court made a bad decision that would have bad consequences for Taiwan’s democracy.  Now I think the court probably made the right decision, but it will still have bad effects.  I’m going to go through what happened in the legal case, why the decision was reasonable, why it think it was a bad decision for democracy, and briefly discuss constitutional arguments about expelling Wang and separation of powers.

(Keep in mind that I am not a lawyer and have no legal training.  I might be making some basic mistakes in my discussion of how the law works.)

Wang brought a civil suit in the Taipei District Court.  Political parties are governed under the Civil Associations Act 人民團體法, and this is the basic problem.  Membership in a political party is considered just like membership in any other association.  I think this means that legally, a party membership is no different than membership in a charity, a glass producers association, a softball enthusiasts club, a temple group, or any other association.  Wang argued that the status of his membership in the KMT was still unsure and the immediate revocation of his membership would cause him irreparable damage since there would be no way to restore him to the legislature (and the speakership) if he won his appeal.  The court agreed and issued a temporary injunction preventing the KMT from taking action until Wang’s case was decided.  In making this decision, the court treated his party membership as a type of private property.  The court was not considering the impact on the association, whether Wang was guilty of the allegations, whether he should lose his seat in the legislature, constitutional arguments about anything, or whether a delay in executing the decision would benefit Wang.  This was simply a matter of whether immediately revoking Wang’s property rights over his party membership would cause him irreparable damage.  To me, that is a terrible way to think about a case like this, but I think the court was probably right in considering things from that angle and coming to the conclusion that it would impact Wang negatively and irreversibly.

The other, less reported, part of the decision was the point that Wang’s membership status was unclear.  Why was it unclear?  The KMT party rules spelled out a procedure for revoking party for revoking party rules.  They did not violate these procedures.  Wang’s lawyers made two arguments.  First, the KMT had not allowed him to appeal before executing the punishment.  However, party rules clearly stated that, while he had the right to appeal, the punishment would be valid during the appeal period.  Thus according to party rules, Wang should immediately lose his party membership and any privileges that went with it.  Second, Wang’s lawyers argued that the KMT’s punishment was unfairly heavy.  In previous recent cases, KMT members have been formally indicted and/or convicted, and they have not lost their party membership.  Wang has neither been indicted nor convicted of anything.  The party has not taken time to objectively establish any set of damning facts, yet it has still given Wang its heaviest penalty.  The court press release did not explain its decision, but I think it must have accepted one or both of these arguments.  After talking with a friend with some legal training and reading various media reports, I think the second argument is probably the key one.  The Civil Associations Act says that organizations are not allowed to make rules for single individuals; they have to use the same rules for everyone.

The injunction is supposed to put a temporary halt to the KMT’s efforts; it is not supposed to indicate that Wang is right or wrong.  However, Wang will remain in the speaker’s chair until the legal case is decided.  No one seems to know how long this will be.  At the quickest, a higher court could overturn the injunction as early as next week.  At the slowest, various commentators have suggested that the full appeals process could easily stretch out over two or three years.  In other words, Wang could finish out this legislative term as speaker before the case is resolved. Yesterday Wang’s lawyer said he thought it would take about five months for the case to be decided.  So we might be in for a protracted scorched-earth political struggle lasting for two years, or the whole thing might be over in a few days.  My guess is that the political struggle will determine a winner and/or loser before the legal battle is finished, but that is just a guess.

I do not like the legal decision to stop the KMT from revoking Wang’s party membership at all.  The judges may have made a reasonable decision based on the case at hand, but the implication is that parties no longer have the right to discipline their members.  The problem is that political parties should not be regulated as if they were ordinary civic associations.  Membership in a political party is not a property right.

Parties deal in trust.  In every election, they ask voters to trust them with political power.  Arguably, the most important asset any party has is its party image.  For democracy to work, parties must be given full control to shape their images as they see best.  If a party believes that a member is harming that image, it should have the right to sever all associations with that member.  I don’t think that the party even needs to be able to justify its decision in legal terms.  Image is a subjective concept, and the party makes a subjective decision about what helps that image and what harms it.  For example, the KMT might have decided that the damage to its image was much smaller in the Lai Su-ru 賴素如 case than in the Wang Jin-pyng case.  In the Lai case, there were concrete accusations of bribery and formal indictments.  However, Lai is merely a Taipei City Councilor.  They might subjectively decide that a relatively bad deed by a relatively unimportant member is not that harmful to the overall party image.  In contrast, Wang’s criminally less serious case might have done more damage because Wang is such an important figure in the KMT.  I personally Lai damaged the KMT party image more than Wang, but my opinion shouldn’t matter.  The KMT should be free to take any disciplinary actions that it believes will benefit its party image, and they should not need to justify those actions to a judge.

They should need to justify those actions to the general electorate, however.  If the KMT wants to engage in vicious internal purges against popular party members, that should be their prerogative.  However, they should be prepared to lose elections when they do so for superficial reasons.  If the KMT can’t persuade the general public that Wang was dirty and the electorate instead comes to believe that this was nothing more than a political purge of one leader against another, it is the electorate’s responsibility to punish or reward this behavior.

Instead, the courts have ruled that they are the arbiters of whether a party should be able to discipline its members.  In 2010, the KMT tried to revoke the membership of Hsu Shu-po 許舒博, a party list legislator, because he had been convicted of corruption by a lower court.  Hsu sued to stop the action, and the court (incredibly!) ruled that the KMT’s action was unreasonable since Hsu’s case was still being appealed and had not yet been finalized.  Because the appellate courts had not yet conclusively determined that Hsu was legally corrupt, the judge decided that the KMT could not be sure that Hsu had harmed the party’s image.  Therefore, the judge issued an injunction stopping the KMT from kicking Hsu out of the party, and Hsu eventually served out the rest of the term in the legislature.  (Because of Hsu’s case, the KMT changed its rules so that the party’s decision would take effect immediately instead of waiting until the party’s appeals process was completed.)  This is ridiculous!  It only makes sense if you think of party membership as a property right and the removal of party membership as depriving a person of property.  If you think of a party as an organization carefully nurturing a collective image, it is completely illogical.  Voters certainly don’t wait until all the legal appeals are exhausted before considering whether they should make any political judgments.  Moreover, what if Hsu had done something completely legal but politically damaging, such as repeatedly vote against his party?  Would the courts decide that he wasn’t harming the KMT’s party image because no court had convicted him?  Why should the courts even be involved in such a decision?  This should be the purview of the party, and the voters should be responsible for approving or rejecting the party’s decision.  Political decisions should be made according to political logic, and they should be judged though political processes.

Unfortunately, the courts did not defer to party judgments because they were considering the case according to the Civil Associations Act.  There is no Political Parties Law to instruct them to treat parties differently.  I believe many different drafts of the Political Parties Bill have been introduced, but none has passed.  This is probably because members of the legislature don’t want a Political Parties Law.  There is probably some key clause in all the bills that would restrict their freedom of action or restrain them in some way.  It might be about money.  It might also be that they want the courts to think of their legislative seats as private property rather than as delegations of power from voters or a party.  The current case should highlight the need for a Political Parties Law, but it probably won’t.  Since most people support Wang against Ma, the Taipei District Court is a popular one.  My argument about party discipline is coming from Ma’s side.  Since Ma is losing the war of public opinion, concerns about parties’ needs to be able to discipline themselves are also on the losing side.  Hopefully the next time the court steps in and stops a party from expelling a member, the member will be less sympathetic to the public.

In recent days, a number of prominent legal scholars have made two prominent constitutional arguments.  First, some suggest that party list legislators should be allowed to keep their seat in the legislature even if they lose their party membership.  Second, President Ma’s efforts to remove Speaker Wang from his position violate the principle of separation of powers.  I think both of these arguments are wrong.

The first argument is a bit bewildering to me.  As I understand it, the argument says that party list legislators are not merely representatives of their party.  The voters consider the individual names on the party list when they decide how to cast their party list ballots, so the individuals have a bit of legitimacy based on non-party factors.  Revoking their party membership does not revoke the voters’ delegation of power to them, since voters voted, at least in part, for them as individuals.  Thus, they should not be stripped of their seats but should be allowed to continue serving as independent legislators.  In Germany, when the Green Party tried to expel a list legislator in 1988, a judge used this logic to rule that he should keep his seat.

I am not a lawyer, and I don’t always understand legal logic.  However, I can claim some expertise in electoral systems, and I have never seen this sort of logic used to explain how closed list proportional representation systems should or do operate.  In a closed list PR system, the voter marks a vote for a political party.  In some countries, a few names are listed on the ballot next to the party name (I am not aware of any cases in which the complete list is presented), but the vote is for the party, not for the names.  The voter has no way of indicating which name he or she likes or dislikes.  Moreover, the order of the names is fixed in advance by the parties.  If the party already has enough votes for twelve seats, one more vote will help only the 13th person on the list get a little closer to winning.  It doesn’t matter whether the voter really likes the 7th person or the 15th person better.  Moreover, voters can only guess whether it will be the 13th, 15th, or 18th person who is on the bubble.  In other words, voters really can’t vote for individuals on a closed list.

Empirically, we have pretty good evidence that voters do not try to vote for individuals.  The Taiwan Election and Democracy Surveys (TEDS) are the standard academic datasets for election studies in Taiwan.  After both the 2008 and 2012 elections, survey respondents were asked if they could name anyone on any party lists.  Very few people could.  I don’t remember the numbers, but I believe it was fewer than 20% who could even name one person.  Most people who named someone named Wang Jin-pyng.  However, this should not be taken as an indication that voters delegated personal power to Wang.  Many of the people who named him did not vote for the KMT.  At any rate, since he was listed at #1 and the KMT eventually elected 16 members, his election was assured; voters could not do anything to help him or prevent him from winning.  Instead, people voted for a particular party list based on the whole party, not because they wanted to delegate power to a particular legislative candidate.  This finding is general.  Voters around the world rarely know who the individual candidates are anywhere that closed lists are used.  With closed lists, voters vote for parties, not individuals.

In fact, the primary argument justifying the use of closed lists is precisely that they create strong political parties that can constrain individual members and act cohesively.  The ability to discipline members by stripping their seats or giving them a lousy spot on the list is central to the logic of the system.  Voters vote for parties, parties put individuals into offices, parties oversee those individuals and ensure that they act as the party intends, and voters judge parties on the results.  If the individuals are allowed to flaunt party discipline, the system breaks down.

As far as the German judge goes, I simply don’t care.  Just because one German judge made a terrible argument based on a flawed understanding of representation does not mean that Taiwan is obliged to follow his awful precedent.  Why in the world should we accept the ludicrous idea that party representatives are not actually representatives of the party?

The second argument is far less stupid.  The constitution lays out a system with separation of powers, and the president tried to remove the speaker of the legislature.  This strikes many people as fundamentally wrong.  The executive branch should not be able to dictate to the legislative branch.  Indeed, one of the primary achievements of democratization in Taiwan was creating a legislature that could say no to the president.  Today’s Taipei Times has a more detailed summary of this argument.

I understand why people instinctively don’t like seeing the president bully the speaker, but I think this argument is ultimately flawed because it fails to consider the centrality of parties in democratic politics.  One of the most important books in the past generation informing our understanding of presidentialism is titled Presidentialism and Democracy in Latin America (Shugart and Wattenberg, eds. 1997).  The book makes the point that presidents generally enjoy two types of power.  The constitution grants them certain formal powers that they wield as president.  In addition, most presidents are the formal or informal leader of a political party, and this yields a set of partisan powers that they wield as party leader.  Interestingly, presidents with the strongest set of constitutional powers often have weak partisan powers and vice versa.  Critically, the most stable and successful democracies tend to be those with presidents who have weak constitutional but strong partisan powers.  Presidents with strong constitutional powers but weak partisan powers try to ram things through the legislature regardless of whether they have any support there.  However, those decisions are commonly blocked by an incalcitrant legislature or reversed by the next imperial president, and some results include gridlock, vitriolic rhetoric, wild policy reversals, and impeachments.  Presidents with weak constitutional powers but strong partisan powers are able to operate more smoothly because they have a solid block of footsoldiers in the legislature.  Presidents are also constrained from taking actions that are too radical because they need to consider the electoral fortunes of those footsoldiers, even if the president himself will not be running for re-election.  Moreover, laws enacted with the full approval of the legislature are more likely to remain in force after the president leaves office.  In short, the executive and legislature are not always independent actors.  The system operates best when they are linked together by political parties.

Taiwan is fortunate to have strong parties paired with a constitutionally weak president.  The president has no decree powers, so he cannot unilaterally make a law.  He has a very weak veto, only a package veto which the legislature can override with a mere majority.  The executive branch can introduce bills, but they have no special status in the legislative process.  The major exception is that Taiwan’s president has fairly strong control over the national budget.  However, as the 2001 showdown over nuclear power demonstrated, when the president faces a determined majority opposition in the legislature, the legislature will win.  Taiwan’s president cannot simply command the legislature; he has to persuade it to do his bidding.  This is where the partisan powers come in.  The president can use softer tactics, such as communication through the party legislative caucus or appealing to the public to give him more footsoldiers in the next election, or harder tactics, such as threatening to withhold nominations from unruly members in the next election.  By doing such things, the president can help channel the disparate energies and ambitions of the diverse set of party members toward a specific set of political goals.

Of course the president might abuse his partisan powers by employing them for a goal that many or most of the party members do not want.  Arguably, that is what has happened in the current case.  If this happens, it is the party’s responsibility to constrain the president.  In the current case, if KMT legislators and other party members are worried that Ma’s actions will harm them electorally, they should probably take some action to strip him of some of his partisan powers during this month’s party congress.  For example, they might implicitly repudiate him by requiring the Central Standing Committee to affirm all disciplinary measures, or they might explicitly repudiate him by standing up and applauding when Wang walks into the room.  Either way, a clear message would be sent that Ma does not fully control the party, and Ma would be politically hobbled for the rest of his presidency.  The KMT might be able to restore its tarnished image by turning to a new set of leaders to fight the 2016 campaign.

The important point here is that partisan powers are a critical and legitimate element in presidential politics.  The fact that Ma has used his partisan powers to interfere with the inner workings of the legislature is not a violation of separation of powers.

In fact, from one point of view, there is no such thing as a pure separation of powers.  The executive branch has a lot of legislative powers, including the right to introduce bills, and the right to veto.  The legislative branch has some executive powers, such as the right oversee the workings of the executive branch by demanding that bureaucrats regularly report to the legislature on their activities.  Both branches also have some judicial powers as well.  Thus contrary to popular belief, the constitution does not actually establish a system with separated powers; it shares the powers among the branches of government.  From this point of view, criticizing the president for interfering in the legislative branch does not make sense.  The president is, by order of the constitution, a legitimate player in the legislative branch.

Another way to think about the idea that there is something wrong with the president trying to remove the speaker is to think about an alternate world in which Speaker Wang had been elected in a district.  Suppose people in Wang’s district were dissatisfied with his performance and wanted to recall him.  If he were actually recalled, he would lose his seat and, of course, the speaker’s chair.  No one thinks this would be illegitimate.  The voters of the district elected him and delegated power to him.  They also had the right to remove him from power.  Similarly, in the real world, the Taiwanese voters gave sixteen party list seats to the KMT and the KMT entrusted one of these seats to Wang.  When Wang acted in a way that the KMT did not approve of, it tried to take the seat back, just as voters could try to recall their district representative.

Of course, what really rankles some people is that Wang is not just another party list legislator, he is the speaker.  But why is he the speaker?  The KMT has already “interfered” in the legislature’s internal business by nominated Wang as speaker and then using its party powers to ensure that all KMT legislators voted for Wang and ratified the party choice.  Somehow it is not seen as illegitimate when the party puts the speaker in power, but it is illegitimate to try to remove him.

By now my basic points should be clear: parties are legitimate and critical actors in the democratic process, and they should have the freedom to discipline their own members.  If they do so irresponsibly, it is up to the voters to punish them.  I personally do not buy Ma’s assertion that Wang’s supposed illegal lobbying was the most embarrassing day in the party’s history, and it seems that most of the public does not buy it either.  However, if the KMT bought the argument, that should be sufficient.  If they want to plunge their party into internal chaos, that should be their choice to make.  I think they are doing serious damage to their party image and future electoral prospects, but apparently they do not agree.

All the King’s Horses and all the King’s men

September 13, 2013

So it looks like President Ma 馬英九 will succeed in his quest to purge Speaker Wang 王金平.  A lot is still ongoing and we certainly haven’t seen the end of this story.  Moreover, there is always a lot more going on behind the scenes that we don’t see, so we don’t really have a full set of facts about the basic events.  However, at this point I think I can start to make some preliminary comments about what has happened and what it will mean.

One thing that I still do not feel I understand well is why Ma wanted to purge Wang.  I haven’t heard any such uncertainty from the talking heads on TV, but then no one there ever says “I’m not sure” about anything.  They have offered several motives.  Ma has hated Wang ever since the 2005 fight over the KMT party chair or the 2007 fight over nomination for president.  The talking heads point to one of Ma’s campaign ads that said his campaign was a fight against black and gold, and (obviously??) this meant Wang.  Another pundit said the hatred goes back to the mid-1990s when certain KMT legislators blocked Justice Minister Ma from prosecuting corrupt KMT politicians.  A different tack is that Ma was hearing rumors that various forces (perhaps including Lien Chan 連戰, Hau Bei-tsun 郝柏村, Wu Po-hsiung 吳伯雄, and/or Eric Chu 朱立倫 and his father-in-law 高裕仁) were planning to push Wang for party chair, and the purge was Ma’s pre-emptive strike to secure his power and avoid becoming a lame duck.  Then there are the people who think that the legislature was not passing Ma’s legislation (nuclear plant referendum, trade and services pact) quickly enough or not blocking potential amendments.  All of these make a little sense, but none is quite persuasive to me.  If you had asked last week who the biggest threat to Ma was, I wouldn’t have said Wang.  The dredging up of old events looks like post-hoc reasoning, much like how stock market analysts confidently say the latest unemployment stats were (obviously) good news if the market went up or bad news if the market went down, regardless of whether unemployment was up or down.  The idea of Wang challenging Ma for party leadership is ignoring the point that Wang is just not a confrontational guy.  I’ll talk more about the effect on the legislature below, but the basic problem is that the referendum and the services trade pact are unpopular and KMT legislators don’t want to go on the record casting votes for them.  Removing Wang won’t change that.  At any rate, these sorts of internal tensions always exist inside every political party, but the various actors usually just put up with things rather than declare full nuclear war.  I don’t have a better answer; I’m just not fully satisfied with any of these proposed motives.  I’d really like to know why Ma chose this course.

One thing I am absolutely sure of is that this is a political purge.  Ma’s accusations of influence peddling and harming the party’s image are clearly window dressing.  As many, many people have pointed out, Ma didn’t react nearly as strongly to other recent cases (eg: Lin Yi-shih 林益世, Chang Tung-jung 張通榮, Chuo Po-yuan 卓伯源, Lee Chao-ching 李朝卿, Lai Su-ju 賴素如) in which actual crimes were committed and people were convicted by the judicial system.  Every report I’ve seen so far says that there is no legal case against Wang.  Indeed, the KMT rescinded his membership for the vague offense of harming the party’s reputation, not for any specific legal cause.  This is in marked contrast to the usual practice of declining to take any action until a party member is convicted by a court and the legal appeals process has been exhausted (and not always even then).

No, this was a power play.  Ma decided to remove Wang, planned carefully, and ruthlessly executed that plan.  The timing is a clear tipoff.  Are we to believe that Ma really learned of this “egregious offense” right before Wang coincidentally left the country?  And, even more fortuitously, Wang chose to go to a fairly remote part of Malaysia with bad communications and infrequent transportation back to Taiwan.  Wang could hardly come back early since he would have had to cancel or miss his daughter’s wedding, but even if he had wanted to, it would have been logistically challenging.  (I even heard one pundit claim that Ma had waited until right after Wang cleared customs at the airport to send the first message to explain himself and the second call went out right after the plane took off.  Take that story with a grain of salt.)  If we are to believe the official timeline, the Special Investigation Division learned of the lobbying while (illegally?) listening in to a DPP legislator’s phone calls.  However, the phone calls took place in late June, but Huang supposedly did not (illegally?) report this information to President Ma until August 31.  So supposedly the SID sat on this info for over a month and, by random chance, reported to Ma at exactly the worst time for Wang to defend himself.  That seems a bit fishy.  More likely Ma sent word to the SID to pass him any dirt on Wang and knew of this incident by early July.  The official timetable is almost certainly contrived for public consumption.  After springing the trap, Ma acted quickly to ensure that Wang could not wiggle out.  Ma scheduled the KMT disciplinary meeting less than 24 hours after Wang arrived back in Taiwan.  When the decision came down from that obedient body, it was finalized and the paperwork was sent out to the Central Election Commission that day.  The disciplinary committee even “rescinded” 撤銷 his party membership rather than “expelling” 開除 him, because the party rules require the latter decision to be ratified by the Central Standing Committee.  Ma does not dominate the CSC as thoroughly as the disciplinary committee, and Wang might have been able to overturn the decision in that arena.  Instead, the CSC was merely informed of the decision.  Now that the Central Election Commission has received the KMT notification, I don’t see how the decision can be reversed.  The CEC is not responsible for judging whether the decision was fair or reasonable.  It received an official document from the legitimate party office saying that Wang is no longer a party member.  The CEC’s hands should be tied.  According to law, if Wang is not a party member, he loses his seat on the KMT party list.  Since he will no longer be a member of the legislature, he automatically ceases to be speaker.  (Then again, I’ve seen stranger things happen in Taiwan’s politics…) This was a lightning strike, designed to render a decision before Wang was able to mobilize any support for a counter-offensive.  At this point, it looks like it has succeeded.

[Update: Wang has gotten a stay of action from a court.  I think this is probably just delaying his fate.  But maybe not.  I hate writing while things are still unfolding.]

[2nd update five hours later: Oops.  It seems the court decision has overturned everything and Wang will survive.  What??  I don’t understand the legal ruling at all.  At any rate, a lot of this post is immediately rendered obsolete.  Imagine that: after months of writing nothing for this blog, I spend hours and hours writing a 4000+ word post that is out of date before it is even published.  This is why academics usually wait a few months or even years after the fact before trying to publish anything.  ]

Supposing Wang really has lost the Speaker position.  What then?  Several people have suggested that Wang will run for Kaohsiung City Mayor next year or president in 2016.  Others think he will try to get back in the legislature and regain the speaker’s chair.  Still others wonder if he will split his faction off from the KMT and ally with the green camp.  I think none of these will happen.  The reason that Wang has been such a great fit as speaker for 15 years is that he is a consensus seeker.  By nature, he shies away from conflict whenever he can.  He just doesn’t have the personality to try to storm the castle all by himself.  At any rate, none of these options has a sliver of a chance of succeeding.  We’ve seen again and again how dismally third party candidates do in Taiwan’s elections.  And there is no clear path to get back into the legislature quickly.  Even if a close ally resigned a seat and Wang won the by-election (ignoring the fact that he would have to beat a KMT assassin and a DPP candidate), by the time that happened there would already a new speaker sitting in the chair.  At any rate, Wang is old and was planning on retiring after this term anyway.  I think he’ll just fade away.  But, as always, I could be wrong.

Another line of speculation says that the Wang faction in the legislature will ally with the green camp to elect the new speaker.  According to this logic, it takes 57 legislators to win a majority and the KMT has 64 legislators, so all Wang has to do is get 7 or 8 KMT members to split off and combine with all the DPP, TSU, PFP, and independent legislators to elect the new speaker.  Think about that coalition for a bit and see if it sounds like it could agree on anything.  I doubt it.  More importantly, which 7 or 8 KMT members are going to break off?  One thing that has been overlooked is that the “Taiwan KMT” legislative caucus is much smaller than it used to be.  Moreover, many of the most senior legislators with leadership capability are no longer in the legislature.  Some of the people who MIGHT (not always clear who belongs where) be considered Taiwan KMT who have left the legislature in the past few years include Lin Yi-shih 林益世, Chung Shao-ho 鍾紹和, Li Fu-hsing 李復興, Huang Chien-ting 黃建庭, Lin Ping-kun 林炳坤, Lin Chien-jung 林建榮, Chiu Ching-chun 邱鏡淳, Liu Chuan-chung 劉銓忠, Hou Tsai-feng 侯彩鳳, Chiang Lien-fu 江連福, Yen Ching-piao 顏清標, and Chiang Yi-hsiung 江義雄.  Some of them retired, some were defeated, and some took other offices.  Regardless, that is a lot of talent and experience that is now missing from the Taiwan KMT.  What’s left?  Perhaps Weng Chung-chun 翁重鈞, Huang Chao-shun 黃昭順, Yang Chiung-ying 楊瓊瓔, Hsu Yao-chang 徐耀昌 and a handful of new or uncharismatic legislators.  That doesn’t look to me like a group with the guts or skill to take on a party leadership that will be invoking draconian party discipline on the speaker vote.

The more interesting question is whether this case will cost the KMT votes.  There are two ways this could happen.  First, Wang has his own personal networks that could refuse to mobilize for the KMT again.  They might even actively work against the KMT to try to show that expelling Wang was a bad idea.  This effect would be limited to a very small segment of the electorate in Kaohsiung.  Second and potentially much more significant, the “Taiwan KMT” could reconsider its loyalties.  Wang was widely seen as the leader of the native wing of the KMT, that vague grouping of people who are ethnic Min-nan, prefer to speak Taiwanese, have a predominantly Taiwan identity, come from central and southern Taiwan, are somewhat earthier, and/or have “complicated” ties with local society (read: local faction politicians embedded in black and gold networks).  Many (mostly green) pundits are arguing that Wang’s purge is a signal to the Taiwan KMT that they are clearly subordinate partners to the dominant Taipei/mainlander/bureaucratic/elite Chinese KMT wing.  Because of this, some people wonder whether the elites and their supporters in the Taiwan KMT will reconsider their support for the blue side and defect to the green side.  This is certainly possible, but I am dubious.  These people have had numerous opportunities to defect over the years, and yet they are still in the broader blue camp.  Unless Ma comes out and explicitly says something to the effect of “you people are not full partners and your Taiwan orientation is illegitimate,” don’t expect them to defect now.  Of course, Ma will say nothing of the sort.  Instead, he rejects the notion that Wang represents anything more than one person.  In Ma’s discourse, this was a regrettable but isolated incident, and the KMT remains a broad tent welcoming people from all corners of Taiwan.  By the time the 2014 and 2016 elections roll around, this will probably once again be the dominant way of thinking within the Taiwan KMT.  In short, I don’t think this purge will trigger much lasting change to the political map, much less a full-scale reorganization of the party system.  If there is any effect, I think it will be marginal.  This ugly factional infighting will be just one more thing in a litany of KMT problems, including the Dapu land case, the recent death of a military recruit, a few corruption scandals, continuing economic stagnation, and now this.  I expect many previous blue camp supporters to be disgusted with the KMT when they vote in 2014 and 2015, but they won’t necessarily be able to tell you which incident was the critical one.  All these things blur together.

If Wang has lost, this doesn’t necessarily mean that Ma has won.  You can’t just purge someone of Wang’s stature and go back to work the next day expecting everyone to pretend that nothing has happened.  The KMT will probably go through an extended internal struggle over the next month or two.  Ma will either emerge hobbled and constrained or dominant within the party.  It’s still not clear how that struggle will unfold and who will be on which side.  So far, only a few KMT figures, most notably the Lien family, have been willing to openly attack Ma for this power play.  However, Ma did very little in this episode to try to package his actions to make them more palatable to the public, and public opinion is running very strongly against Ma.  Likewise, other party elites were shocked and most seemed rather dismayed by this purge.  If we are to believe the media reports, almost none of them had any inkling that Ma was about to ambush Wang.  (The plot was said to be planned by only handful of people, including Ma, VP Wu 吳敦義, Premier Jiang 江宜樺, consigliore King Pu-tsung 金溥聰, King’s man in the presidential office Luo Chih-chiang 羅智強, and the former Foreign Minister Yang 楊進添.  Again, grain of salt.)  Some party elites, like Mayors Hau 好龍斌 and Chu 朱立倫, have accepted the fait accompli and grudgingly expressed support for Ma.  Other, like Mayor Hu 胡志強, have remained silent.  There could be much more to come.  For that, we will just have to wait and see.

One of the points of contention within the KMT may be the extent to which Ma, as party leader, can make decisions for the entire party.  In particular, legislators on the party list are supposed to serve at the pleasure of their party.  If they run afoul of the party, it has the right to take that seat away and give it to someone more reliable.  In democratic theory, parties play a crucial role by restraining individuals from pursuing their own personal gain at the expense of the collective.  Since many members of the party will have to face the electorate at some time in the future, they act to constrain their members from engaging in harmful behavior such as taking unpopular positions on critical issues or taking bribes in order to protect the reputation of the whole group.  If Wang had really damaged the KMT’s reputation by influence peddling, the party would be justified in expelling him.  However, Wang did not seem to run afoul of the collective KMT.  Rather, he ran afoul of one person, Ma.  In making the decision for the entire party based on his personal considerations, Ma seems to have gone far beyond what most members of the party wanted.  Remember, parties are supposed to constrain their members, and Ma is a KMT member.  If he was usurping the party machinery to do something that harms the greater party image (eg: launch a highly visible factional purge), the collective should try to restrain him.

At any rate, Ma has sent a clear message to all KMT party list legislators that they are responsible to him, not to the wider KMT.  This is a departure from past practices.  In the past, list legislators have only been stripped of their seats if they were convicted of a crime or if they blatantly disobeyed party discipline on a very critical issue.  In the former case, it was the courts, not the party, that usually took the seat away.  This case is something new.  Ma has apparently taken Wang’s seat away because of a factional dispute or because Wang was not pushing Ma’s legislative agenda to Ma’s satisfaction.

I have been arguing for a few years that Taiwan’s legislature has a class system, with dominant district legislators and relatively powerless district legislators.  The main exception to this pattern came from senior legislators who decided to take a spot on the party list rather than go through the trouble and expense of winning another district election.  In the future, those senior legislators will have to think twice about whether they should stay in their districts.  If even Speaker Wang was vulnerable, everyone has to worry about whether they might unexpectedly end up on the wrong side of a factional power struggle.  If I were any of the senior list legislators now, I would be thinking very seriously about reopening a few constituency service centers and preparing for a district race.  On the KMT side, I’m looking at Vice Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu 洪秀柱, Pan Wei-kang 潘維剛, Chi Kuo-tung 紀國棟, and Hsu Shao-ping 徐少萍.  In the DPP, Tien Chiu-chin 田秋堇, Wu Ping-jui 吳秉叡, Tsai Huang-liang 蔡煌瑯, and Chen Chi-mai 陳其邁 might be better off running in districts next time.  Of course, if only people who cannot win a district are willing to take list seats, the power gap between district and list legislators will grow larger.  (There were some hints that it had been shrinking after electoral reform; now we may not see these trends develop to fruition.)

What should we expect in the post-Wang legislature?  All the rumors say that the KMT will push for Vice Speaker Hung Hsiu-chu to take over the speaker’s chair.  Hung is a very different person from Wang.  Demographically, she is female, mainlander, and from the Taipei area.  Ideologically, she is clearly part of the Chinese KMT, not the Taiwan KMT.  Her personality is also very different from Wang’s.  She is sharp-tongued and confrontational.  She is often called a “chili pepper” in the media.  She will be a very different speaker than Wang was.  (Casual observers who know only one thing about Taiwan’s legislature – that fighting occurs regularly – might be surprised to learn that it was chaired by a dedicated consensus seeker!  You mean there will be MORE fighting in the legislature in the future??  Yup.)

Frankly, I wonder if there was growing impatience with Wang’s consensual style.  Wang gave the DPP and smaller parties quite a bit of input into how the agenda was set.  I wonder if there was a growing demand in the legislature to rein in some of the individualism or consensualism and run the institution along more majoritarian lines.  I don’t mean that there was any danger within the legislature to Wang’s leadership.  I think he was still extremely popular and most blue camp legislators were stunned and probably somewhat dismayed by recent events.  However, it’s possible that, moving forward, the KMT caucus won’t be entirely unhappy with the new regime.  Let me explain.  As I noted above, the Taiwan KMT wing of the party is much smaller and has weaker leaders than in past years.  Instead, the party is increasingly dominated by the Chinese/northern wing of the party.  Of the KMT’s 64 members, 25 are from Greater Taipei, Taoyuan, and Hsinchu City, and almost all of these belong to the Chinese KMT wing.  A further 16 are on the party list and can be counted on to toe the party line.  A handful of other legislators from districts around Taiwan can also be counted as Chinese KMT.  In all, the Chinese KMT might control as many as 45 or 50 votes in the legislature.  In other words, the current KMT legislative caucus is more narrowly based in the north and more ideologically cohesive than previous caucuses have been.  On the other hand, this is a crude generalization as it still maintains a wide range of opinion on some policy questions, such as nuclear power.  Even if it cannot agree on all policy questions, I think there might be some consensus on the desire to cut the DPP and other smaller parties out of the decision-making process.  I think it is quite possible that the KMT under Speaker Hung will revise some of the organizational laws to allow for more majoritarianism.  While this wouldn’t necessarily be undemocratic in principal – legislatures have the right to determine how they will reach decisions and are constantly moving between more minority rights and more majority control – it might not be a great thing for an already polarized Taiwanese society to see more things forced through the legislature by an already-unpopular president.  Alternatively, she might just use her agenda power as chair to disallow some motions or bills.  In the extreme, she could do what the KMT did a couple of decades ago to pass controversial national security laws: seeing the chaos on the floor, Speaker Liu yelled that legislators would vote yes by standing up and then hammered the gavel down and declared the bills passed.  If the DPP can’t oppose KMT bills through normal legislative procedures, it will react by resorting to more extraordinary tactics, such as interrupting legislative proceedings and street protests.  (On the positive side for me and my colleagues, we might see a lot more roll-call votes if Hung tries to do more things without first getting unanimous consent.  Data!)

So let me try to sum up a bit.  On the one hand, it’s easy to see how this might lead to a more China-friendly government in the short run.  The president has purged a nativist rival and may have cowed others into silence.  At any rate, the KMT legislative caucus has been evolving toward a more pro-China orientation.  If Ma is able to consolidate his power inside the KMT over the next couple of months, he could have quite a bit of leeway to govern as he pleases over the next year or so.  On the other hand, other forces in the KMT might not be so happy with this power play and might be able to encroach on his power within the party to make sure they are not the next casualties.  On the third hand, eventually we will return to electoral politics.  The more radical Ma and the KMT are over the next year or so, the more out of step with the electorate they will become.  I think it is becoming increasingly likely that the DPP will win power in 2016.

One more thing.  Suppose the KMT finds itself out of power in 2017.  When the hardliners in the DPP demand a thorough investigation of corruption in the Ma administration (and there is always something to be found), how many KMT supporters will stand in his defense?  I’m pretty sure it will be fewer now than it was last week.  Ma displayed more ruthlessness this week than I thought him capable of, but political hardball is a dangerous game.  He may have sown the seeds of his own eventual disgrace.