Archive for the ‘legislative politics’ Category

the politics of the marriage equality vote

May 21, 2019

Last Friday, Taiwan passed the Enforcement Act of Judicial Yuan Constitutional Interpretation No. 748, which is pointedly not named the Marriage Equality Act. This is not a post about how wonderful it is for Taiwan to pass such landmark legislation or how it is the first country in Asia to do so. (For the record, I think it is pretty great.) T his post is about the politics behind that momentous act.

This issue has turned into something of a political nightmare for President Tsai and the DPP. Courtney Donovan Smith has done a fantastic job of following all the twists and turns over the past four years, tracing how it all went politically wrong for the DPP. I highly recommend reading that piece before continuing this one, because I’m going to assume all that as background knowledge. I only have two points to add to Donovan’s excellent account. People don’t pay enough attention to President Tsai’s judicial appointments, and it isn’t commonly appreciated just how much the revisions to the Referendum Act changed the entire process and outlook for marriage equality.

Marriage equality would not have gotten to the front of Taiwan’s political agenda if the Council of Grand Justices hadn’t put it there. Yes, there were demonstrations and activists, but they weren’t anywhere near powerful enough to force their way onto the agenda. There wasn’t a consensus in public opinion, and it wasn’t close to getting on the party platform of either of the two major parties. Without the court, this would have lingered on the sidelines, waiting behind other stalled causes such as judicial reform, moving the Taipei city airport, and absentee voting. Why did the court put this case on the agenda? It did so because a majority of the justices took a progressive view of this question. And that happened because President Tsai appointed progressives to the Council of Grand Justices. There are fifteen justices. The President and Vice President of the Judicial Yuan serve four year terms, and the other thirteen serve eight year terms. Due to disputes dating back to the late Chen presidency (ie: the legislature refused to confirm anyone Chen nominated), the calendar for filling vacancies got screwed up. A political settlement allowed Tsai to fill seven vacancies (including the President and VP of the Judicial Yuan) after she took office, so there are four justices nominated by Ma in 2011, four more nominated by Ma in 2015, and seven nominated by Tsai in 2016. All seven of Tsai’s nominees went on record as being in favor of marriage equality. None of Ma’s eight nominees publicly expressed support for marriage equality. The 2011 nominees weren’t asked about the issue. The 2015 nominees were asked to raise their hands if they supported marriage equality, and none of them did. Granted, at least one of Ma’s nominees actually did vote for marriage equality, and only two issued formal dissenting opinions. However, there is a clear difference between the types of people Tsai and Ma nominated. If Tsai had appointed the types of people Ma did, it is highly unlikely that the court would have ruled in favor of marriage equality. In short, Tsai was responsible for getting marriage equality on Taiwan’s political agenda. The activists seem to feel she has betrayed them by not vocally leading the fight, but without her contributions, there wouldn’t even be much of a public fight. No Tsai, no marriage equality.

The second point is that revising the Referendum Act changed everything. The act was revised in December 2017 to lower the thresholds for both proposal and passage of referendums. Under the old law, a referendum needed 50% turnout and more yes than no votes to pass. Since opponents simply declined to vote, the yes side needed to supply 50% of the total electorate. Six referendums had been held since 2004, none of which had come very close to passing. Under the new law, the yes side simply needs to exceed 25% of the electorate, and yes votes must outnumber no votes. When combined with a general election, this effectively removed turnout as a consideration. As long as the yes side got more votes than the no side, the referendum would almost surely pass. In 2018, 31 referendums were introduced, 10 made it onto the ballot, and seven passed. Five of them dealt with marriage equality.

Why was the Referendum Law revised? Two groups were most vocal in support. On the one hand, Taiwan independence fundamentalists have been pushing referendums for years. They would have us believe that referendums (“direct democracy”!!)  are a fundamental democratic right, and any system that doesn’t allow for referendums is not actually a democracy. (As a political scientist, let me comment on that: Horsefeathers! Malarkey! Bovine Feces!) Of course, they actually want referendums to become institutionalized because they hope to one day hold a referendum on Taiwan independence. On the other hand, the growing group of young and alienated voters sees referendums as a way to bypass the established (read: corrupt) parties and go directly to the people. Ko Wen-je’s fascination with i-voting neatly reflects this sentiment (even though it has been a disaster every time he has tried to use i-voting to make a public policy decision). The two groups intersect perfectly in the person of Lin Yi-hsiung 林義雄。The independence fundamentalists, who are disproportionately socially conservative old men, probably weren’t too distressed by how referendums affected marriage equality. However, the young progressives should be. The New Power Party 時代力量 was the strongest voice in the legislature demanding the Referendum Act be changed. Ironically, its first important substantive impact has been to harm marriage equality, one of the NPP’s core goals. Somehow, the NPP leaders seem unable to connect these two points.

The court made its decision in May 2017 and set a two year deadline. Politicians rarely do anything controversial without a deadline, so it should surprise no one that the legislature hadn’t taken action by the beginning of 2018. Before the Referendum Act was revised, marriage equality activists could argue that public opinion was mostly on their side. They had some limited polling, which if you looked at it from just the right angle suggested that more people supported them than opposed them. They also convinced quite a few legislators to sign pledges supporting marriage equality. With the weight of the court opinion behind them, they had a strong case for hoping to get full marriage equality. As legislators went back home and talked to their constituents, we started getting rumblings of popular dissatisfaction. However, there was no authoritative way to quantify this public sentiment. Any circumstantial evidence could be countered by other circumstantial evidence. For example, NPP chair K.C. Huang 黃國昌 was subjected to a recall election in December 2017, and the activists who stood outside collecting signatures were almost all from social conservative groups opposing marriage equality. However, the recall vote failed, and it was easy to dismiss it as simply a KMT-led partisan effort (as I myself did) rather than as a sign of an enormous groundswell against gay marriage.

Once the Referendum Act passed, the anti-marriage groups started organizing almost immediately to put their measures on the ballot. And once it became clear that the public was going to have an opportunity to weigh in, the politicians had a perfect excuse to stall. Why should the politicians decide whether to amend the Civil Code or pass a special law before the voters had a chance to express their opinions? Once the Referendum Act passed, there was zero chance of the legislature doing anything on marriage equality before the November 24, 2018 election.

Stalling wasn’t the most important consequence. The most important consequence was that referendums provided a vehicle for activists to organize, focus, and interpret public opinion. Without a referendum, attitudes about marriage equality were vague. It wasn’t clear how broad or intense anti-marriage sentiment was. It wasn’t even clear if people cared enough about the issue to bother voting on it. There also wasn’t a strong organization of people to voice anti-marriage opinions or to decide exactly the form that those opinions should take. The referendum encouraged the religious organizations to join together under an umbrella group, to put together rosters of volunteers, to hold events, and to galvanize their own attitudes through their activism.

Once the referendum was held, society discovered that public opinion was much more strongly against marriage equality than even the anti-marriage activists expected. There simply is no way to sugarcoat losing by a two-to-one margin. You could tell that the anti-marriage side was stunned by their own success because they almost immediately tried to disown their own referendum. They had proposed a convoluted question in which they proposed “protecting” gay couples’ “rights” through some means other than amending the Civil Code. This measure passed 6.40 million to 4.07 million. (The marriage equality side asked a much clearer but logically equivalent question, and that one failed 3.38 million to 6.94 million.) The anti-marriage side had not dared to ask whether gay marriage should simply not be allowed. After the referendum results were tallied, they openly announced opposition to any legalization of gay marriage. The referendum emboldened them to take a much more radical stance than they had originally dared. Moreover, much of society bought into this new interpretation. Many people did not see the vote as an expression of support for a special law legalizing gay marriage (as it was literally written), but as an expression of opposition to any form of gay marriage.

The referendum erased any possibility of full marriage equality through a revision of the Civil Code. The only path that was politically palatable would be a special law, and even that was going to be extremely hard for the legislature. It took a heroic effort by the Tsai government, especially from Premier Su, to rescue the situation.



We now fast-forward to last week. With the May 24 deadline approaching, the legislature had to make its decision. In discussing the events of last week, I will draw heavily on two excellent accounts of what went on behind the scenes, one from Mirror Media (鏡週刊) and one from the Central News Agency (中央社). If you read Chinese, I highly recommend you read their full accounts.

The DPP had decided long ago to try to pass the cabinet bill without subjecting its members to extra votes. At the first reading on March 5, the DPP voted to bypass committee hearings and send the bill directly to the floor for the second reading. That vote passed 59-24, with 5 abstentions. All 59 yes votes came from the DPP and NPP; all 24 of the no votes came from the KMT and PFP. The five abstentions were all DPP members. The DPP did not want to force its members to go through public committee hearings in which the KMT would try to get them to openly take unpopular positions. The KMT, in contrast, was incensed that it was denied this fun. In addition to the cabinet’s bill, there were a few other bills proposed. Most of these were from marriage equality opponents, such as KMT legislator Lai Shi-pao’s 賴士葆 bill, which was tellingly titled, The Enforcement Act for Referendum #12 公投第十二案施行法草案. The DPP legislative caucus used its procedural powers to adopt a first-winner voting rule. Multiple versions of each clause would be placed on the agenda. The first one to be passed would be adopted with no need for a vote on any of the other versions. Moreover, the first version to be voted on would be the cabinet’s bill, so if the cabinet’s version passed, legislators would not have to vote on any of the other versions. The KMT screamed about these procedures, but there is nothing particularly abnormal about them. I wrote a chapter of my PhD dissertation on how majority parties use their procedural tools to provide political cover for their members to help those members make politically difficult decisions.

Even with these procedures in place, it was by no means certain that the cabinet’s bill would pass. In the days before the vote, the DPP party caucus polled its members and found it only had 31 solid votes. There are 113 legislators, and even if some of them don’t show up, 31 is not enough. There was even an attempt to organize legislators from central Taiwan to collectively boycott the votes. They knew they could probably count on the five votes from the NPP, and they thought they would have the support of one KMT legislator, Jason Hsu 許毓仁。With 39 other KMT, PFP, and independent legislators, the overwhelming majority of whom they expected to vote against them, they could not afford many absences, much less outright defections. There was a very real possibility that the cabinet’s bill would not pass. In that case, one of the other versions might have passed, or, worst of all, nothing might have passed.

Let’s pause to think about the political implications of such a failure. The Council of Grand Justices had set out a political demand, and there was a possibility that the legislature would challenge that demand. Among the alternate versions of the bill, there were some that did not include the term “marriage” and some that had larger legal differences between the version of marriage for straight couples as written in the Civil Code and the version for same-sex couples as written in this special law. The justices had left it up to the legislature to determine the exact form of the law, but they explicitly demanded that whatever framework was adopted would have to achieve “the equal protection of the freedom of marriage.” If everything had unraveled and the legislature had passed an extremely restrictive bill, it might have led to a constitutional confrontation with the court. It is entirely possible that the court would have lost this struggle. On the one hand, the referendum demonstrated that public opinion is not as favorable to marriage equality as most people had previously believed. In the Wikipedia entry on this case, one justice’s public statement in favor of marriage equality is precisely that people are more accepting now of homosexuality than they used to be. He might have to rethink that statement. On the other hand, when courts fight with elected officials, the courts usually lose. Courts have no power outside their courtroom. In one famous but probably apocryphal quote, U.S. President Andrew Jackson said, [Supreme Court Chief Justice] “Mr. Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” Although it probably would not have come to such a crisis, there is a sense in which the DPP was fighting a battle to ensure the continuing smooth operation of the rule of law.

More immediately, the DPP was fighting a battle to preserve its authority. When a leader sets out to do something, failure exposes the leader as toothless. If the Tsai government had staked its reputation on passing the bill and failed to do so, we would have seen a sheaf of declarations that Tsai was now officially a lame duck, that her party was in rebellion, that she was no longer the leader of her party, that her presidency was effectively over, and that the country would stumble along leaderless for the next year until a new president was inaugurated.

Finally, in the event that no bill had passed, we would have been plunged into administrative uncertainty. Local governments would have been left to figure out on their own how to (or even whether to) register same-sex marriages under their existing rules. The cries of “government incompetence” would have been deafening.

Politically speaking, one of the primary arguments for the DPP members to stick together was simply that failure to do so would have been worse. The party was not going to dodge the political responsibility for supporting marriage equality either way.

In the event, the DPP did not fail. Two things were critical: it slightly altered the language in the bill, and it launched a massive lobbying campaign at its legislators.

In discussions with its caucus members, it found that the hardest bit to swallow was the phrase “same-sex marriage” 同性婚姻 in Clause 2. Members proposed revisions removing that phrase and instead using wording such as “register in accordance with the directions set out in Constitutional Interpretation No. 748” and “register as same-sex spouses in accordance with the rules set out herein.”  However, Premier Su insisted on including the word “marriage” in the final wording. The compromise version was to remove the phrase “same-sex marriage” from Clause 2 but to instead stipulate that two people of the same sex could form a “permanent union” and to add in Clause 4 that couples should “register their marriage” at the local household registration office. Substantively, I don’t think there is any difference between the original wording and the final version. However, the compromise version was evidently politically more palatable.

The Tsai administration then launched a massive lobbying effort. Every legislator was targeted by multiple people from the party caucus, the presidential office, the cabinet, their geographic region, and their faction leaders. Some of the people involved included premier Su and vice premier Chen Chi-mai, presidential office secretary general Chen Chu and deputy secretary general Liu Chien-hsi 劉建析, caucus leader Ke Chien-ming, Taoyuan mayor Chen Wen-tsan, and a few cabinet ministers. Basically, almost all the DPP’s heavy hitters were enlisted. (The young progressives detest Ke Chien-ming, who they think is conservative and corrupt. Perhaps, but he gets things done, including this progressive reform.) The lobbyists made a variety of appeals, ranging from cold political calculations to emotional appeals about experiences fighting the authoritarian regime in the 1970s and 1980s. Premier Su was particularly effective; one of his entreaties reportedly left a group of legislators in tears.

William Lai is glaringly absent from this narrative. Lai did post a picture of himself with a rainbow background on social media, but he doesn’t seem to have lifted a finger to pass this bill, either when he was premier or in the last week.

The DPP wasn’t sure that its efforts would pay off until Friday morning, when it was finally confident that it had secured the votes of most of its members. The caucus decided not to formally impose party discipline on the votes, but rather to take collectively responsibility without such coercion. Somehow this worked. The group of legislators from central Taiwan that had been threatening a collective walkout instead decided to collectively support the cabinet bill. Other legislators that had been wavering under pressure from religious groups, such as Chao Tien-lin 趙天麟 and Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪, also stepped back in line. In the end, the DPP was able to get nearly 60 votes on every clause, more than enough to ensure passage. It ended up looking like an easy win, but a lot of DPP legislators swallowed some incredibly difficult votes.



So much for the media narrative. Let’s look at the voting record. For readers familiar with the US Congress, a short background note on how voting works is useful. In the US Congress (and many other legislatures), a bill is put before the floor, amendments are processed, and then a final passage vote is taken to pass or reject the entire bill. If no amendments are offered, only one final passage vote is required to pass the entire bill. In Taiwan, there are no final passage votes. Instead, in the second reading, the bill is processed clause by clause. Each clause is voted for and passed independently. There is a third reading in which the entire bill is reviewed again, but this is not supposed to be a substantive vote. The third reading is only to catch errors or contradictions in the legal wording, and it is almost always a mere formality.

Friday’s bill had 27 clauses, so legislators had to pass 28 items: the title of the bill and 27 individual clauses. In addition, the DPP allowed votes on two other items, a vote to not consider Lin Tai-hua’s 林岱樺 (more conservative) version of Clause 8 and a vote on the NPP’s (more progressive) version of Clause 27. In each of the 30 votes, a yes vote represented a vote for the more progressive option. The Legislative Yuan hasn’t published the official record yet, so I got the votes by watching the video of the session published on the legislature’s IVOD system. There are two big video boards on which the votes are recorded, and at the end of each vote, the screen is supposed to show both of them, one after the other. Unfortunately, the camera people weren’t always paying attention, and sometimes they never bothered switching back to the second screen. I was able to get most of the votes, but in two cases my vote tally came up one yes vote short from the official tally. In both cases, it looks to me like the most obvious person to have voted yes was Jason Hsu 許毓仁, who seemed to habitually wait until the very last moment to cast his vote. The bigger problem was Clause 18, since the camera never got around to showing the second screen at all. As a result, I will only discuss 29 roll call votes. Clause 18 was a fairly routine vote; most of the later clauses had the same people voting all the same ways. I don’t think Clause 18 would have changed any of the conclusions reached in the following discussion.

The first five votes were the most important. The first vote, over the title of the bill, was the first test of how legislators would vote. It passed 68-27. Clause 1 passed 68-25. Clause 2 was the one that the DPP changed the wording of to avoid the scary “same-sex marriage” wording. It passed 75-22. Clause 3 passed 71-27. Clause 4, which included the word “marriage” was the most difficult vote for many legislators. It passed 66-27. The legislature needed about four hours to get through these first five votes. There was an extensive general discussion before the voting started, and several legislators spoke before the voting on the individual clauses. After Clause 4 passed, the legislature took a short recess. When the session resumed, deputy speaker Tsai took over the meeting, and it went through the remaining votes in less than two hours. For most of them, there was no debate at all; the staff member read the text, and the legislature voted. Almost all of Clauses 5 through 27 passed by either a 66-27 or a 67-26 vote. There was a short recess before Clause 27 so that speaker Su could preside over the passage of the bill.

The five New Power Party legislators all voted yes 29 times. They were the only legislators to do so.

The three PFP legislators voted no the first 27 times and didn’t bother to vote on the last two items.

The three independent legislators were absent.

The 68 DPP legislators had a few different patterns. The speaker and deputy speaker usually don’t participate in roll call votes; Su did not vote, but Tsai did vote (yes) on the first five items. 48 DPP legislators voted the party line all 29 times, including all 17 of the party list legislators (other than Speaker Su).  Eleven DPP legislators voted the party line 28 times but missed one vote. A few of these look like bathroom breaks. For example, Chen Ou-po 陳歐珀 missed the vote on Clause 14, Wu Chi-ming 吳琪銘 missed Clause 20, and Lin Chun-hsien 林俊憲 missed Clause 17. These random missing votes don’t seem very consequential. However, many of the single missing yes votes were on the controversial Clause 4. Liu Chao-hao 劉櫂豪, Chao Tien-lin 趙天麟, Chen Ting-fei 陳亭妃, Yeh Yi-chin 葉宜津, Ho Hsin-chun 何欣純, and Chen Ying 陳瑩 all voted the DPP party line 28 times, but they were absent on Clause 4. Tsai Shi-ying 蔡適應 was absent four times, on Clauses 3, 4, 14, and 20; he voted with the party the other 25 times. I think these seven legislators were trying to both support the party line and also dodge a controversial vote. By the time they took the vote, they were certainly aware that their vote would not be decisive. Still, they did skip the single most important vote.

Five DPP legislators broke ranks and refused to show up at all. Huang Kuo-shu 黃國書, Chiang Yung-chang 江永昌, Hsu Chih-chieh 許智傑, Hung Tsung-yi 洪宗熠, and Yang Yao 楊曜 missed all the votes. Of these, Hung and Yang represent rural swing districts. If the party is going to forgive anyone for breaking discipline, they would be at the top of the list. Huang and Hsu, in green-leaning urban districts, have far weaker excuses. Finally, there is Lin Tai-hua 林岱樺, from a deep green district in Kaohsiung. Lin is perhaps the most vocal opponent of marriage equality within the DPP caucus, and she even offered her own (far more conservative) draft of the bill. Unlike the other opponents, Lin showed up and voted. She voted yes 18 times and no 11 times; she was the only legislator to vote both yes and no. I’m not sure what message she wanted to communicate with that action.

The 34 KMT legislators also had a few different patterns. 18 voted no all 29 times, and five others voted no at least 26 times but missed a few votes. Ma Wen-chun 馬文君 voted no four of the first five items (missing Clause 1) and then stopped voting altogether. Lin Li-chan 林麗蟬 and Wang Jin-pyng 王金平 missed all 29 votes. These 26 KMT legislators collectively cast zero votes in favor of marriage equality.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have Jason Hsu casting 24 yes votes, missing two, and voting to abstain three times. Recall, I think those two absent votes were probably actually yes votes. His three abstentions were on Clauses 7, 20, and 26, which seems pretty random to me. He was the only legislator to vote with the NPP on the NPP version of Clause 27.

This leaves seven KMT members who voted yes between one and three times. Wayne Chiang 蔣萬安, Ke Chih-en 柯志恩, Lee Yen-hsiu 李彥秀, Lin Yi-hua 林奕華, and Chen Yi-min 陳宜民  all skipped the first two votes, voted yes on Clauses 2 through 4, and then took the rest of the day off. Hsu Shu-hua 許淑華 voted yes on Clauses 2 and 4, and Lin Wei-chou voted yes on Clause 2. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I should think about their action. On the one hand, they voted yes on the three most critical clauses. On the other hand, they skipped out afterwards, and pointedly did not vote for the rest of the bill. If you are a supporter of marriage equality, wouldn’t you want to be on record as supporting the entire bill? On the third hand, this was a DPP bill. The KMT was entirely cut out of the process. Once they went on record as supporting marriage equality, they also wanted to express displeasure with the DPP’s actions. Expressing both substance and partisanship is entirely reasonable. On the fourth hand, the insider narratives indicated that these seven KMT legislators’ intentions were entirely unknown to the DPP caucus leaders. Because the DPP caucus leaders were expecting support from only Jason Hsu, they felt pressure to alter the language of the bill. They didn’t make substantively serious alterations, but they considered doing so. If the KMT legislators had openly expressed support for the original language, they might have ensured that the strongest version possible passed. On the fifth hand, maybe they, like those wavering DPP legislators, were only willing to vote for the altered language. On the sixth hand, their open support might be the bulwark that prevents other KMT politicians from trying to overturn the bill in the future. On the seventh hand, perhaps if the DPP hadn’t been able to cobble together enough votes, they would have let the bill go up in flames. They pointedly sat out the first two votes, which were the proof of strength. On the eighth hand, who the hell has eight hands?

Aside: I do think this vote was extremely savvy for Wayne Chiang. I assume that, as Taiwan gets used to the idea of same-sex marriage, the yes vote will look better and better. Unlike many other legislators who have difficult elections this year, Chiang can afford to think a few years down the road. He will probably be the KMT’s Taipei mayoral candidate in 2022, and that will put him on the short list for the presidency somewhere between 2028 and 2048. He will be able to point back to this vote as an example of foresight, progressive values, and the courage to take an unpopular position.

Aside continued: In contrast, Johnny Chiang 江啟臣, one of the KMT legislators who voted no all 29 times, tried to claim that the KMT wasn’t really against marriage equality but were simply expressing anger with the DPP’s procedural tactics. Johnny Chiang is sometimes touted as a future KMT leader, but this statement was pathetic. There are some days in which you can complain about procedures, but this wasn’t one of them. The international media didn’t turn its eyes to Taiwan because they were interested in the DPP’s committee referral strategy. There are some times when a milestone decision is before you and you have to take a stand. This was one of those times. His grandchildren won’t care about procedures. They will only care if he was on the right side of history, whichever side that turns out to be.

Overall, the bill was the DPP’s bill, and the DPP provided the votes to pass it. DPP legislators had 1972 votes to cast, and they voted the party line 1749 times (88.7%). From a different perspective, there were 1875 total yes votes cast. The DPP provided 1688 of those yes votes (90.0%), the NPP provided 145 (8.6%), and the KMT only provided 42 (2.5%). In contrast, the KMT provided 662 (81.3%) of the total 814 no votes. While some media reports played up the DPP defections and the KMT yes votes to give the impression that both sides acted similarly, that simply isn’t correct. A small number of KMT legislators gave a small amount of support, and a small number of DPP legislators withheld their support. However, the main pattern was that the DPP overwhelmingly supported marriage equality, and the KMT mostly opposed it.

Effort to recall Ker

November 30, 2016

Hey, there’s a bit of election news in Taiwan. As part of the current battle over marriage equality, there are efforts to recall DPP floor leader Ker Chien-ming 柯建銘.

[As an aside, I haven’t paid particularly close attention to Taiwanese politics over the past ten months. Rather, I have watched developments in Europe and America, often rapt in horror. We seem to be on the cusp of a fundamental shakeup in the international order, and, in my darkest nightmares, I worry that a democratic implosion is right around the corner. I’m not sure if it is reassuring or terrifying that Taiwan is preoccupied with “normal” political controversies, such as how to schedule vacation days, blissfully unconcerned that the rest of the world looks like it might be about to go up in flames. Is this oasis of calm one of the few sane spots in the world right now, or is it sticking its fingers in its ears and willfully ignoring the looming storm?]

The Taiwan Law Blog speculates that I do not support the efforts to recall Ker Chien-ming. That is correct, even though I support marriage equality. I explained my general dislike of recalls in the post the Taiwan Law Blog links to, and I stand by that reasoning. When the votes are counted, the election should stop. The battle over who occupies the seat should be settled until the next regularly scheduled election.

Recalls have a role, but they should only be used as a last-ditch resort when an elected official has fundamentally violated the implicit contract with the voters. I do not believe Ker Chien-ming has fundamentally violated his contract with his voters. When he ran, I do not remember him ever taking a public stance on marriage equality. His campaign was about representing the DPP and supporting Tsai Ing-wen’s agenda in the legislature. Marriage equality was merely one, very small part of that agenda. No matter what he does on this issue, it is hard to imagine it constituting a fundamental betrayal of his positions.

What do I think would be justifiable grounds to launch a recall? To give one example, I think South Korean President Park has fundamentally violated her contract with the voters. Massive corruption, allowing an unelected and unappointed spiritual advisor to make major decisions, and all the rest of it were clearly not what the Korean voters had in mind when they voted for her.

To go back to Ker’s case, since Ker’s central appeal was being a good party soldier, if he suddenly emerged as an intransigent opponent of Tsai’s agenda and plotted with the KMT to thwart her proposals, a recall would be justifiable. If we confine the hypothetical to the issue of marriage equality, if Ker had made support for marriage equality a central issue in his campaign but then had decided to throw his support behind a separate law that did not grant full equality, I think that would probably still be defensible and not justify a recall. After all, it is eminently defensible to compromise for 50% or 75% of your original goal. If he did all that, and then we further learned that he had accepted a massive bribe from an opponent of marriage equality to change his position, then a recall would probably be justified. In that case, Ker would have ignored his voters’ demands in favor of the briber’s demands. Ker’s current behavior is nowhere near these thresholds, and I hope the recall effort fizzles out.

The Taiwan Law Blog suggests that, instead of trying to recall Ker, perhaps marriage equality activists should campaign for him to lose his spot as the DPP party whip. I think he and many others are making the same mistake that President Ma made when he tried to purge Speaker Wang in 2013. They are imagining that the party floor leader is pursuing his own agenda.

In fact, what successful floor leaders do is to help the party rank-and-file get what they want. Sometimes, this means that the floor leader has to take some public heat in order to shield the backbenchers from criticism. In the American case, the classic example is from budgetary politics. A house member knows that a particular spending item should be cut but it is also very popular back home. The backbencher needs the speaker to arrange the agenda so that he can tell his voters that he fought hard to keep the item in the budget but he just couldn’t overcome opposition from everyone else. Sometimes, the legislator will even single out the speaker for criticism, and a good speaker understands what is happening and facilitates it. In 2013, President Ma blamed Speaker Wang for not pushing the Services Trade Agreement strongly enough. Ma should have realized that Wang was protecting KMT legislators who did not want to defend support for particular clauses to their voters.

In today’s case, Ker is probably protecting DPP legislators as well. Most DPP legislators have publicly come out in support of marriage equality, probably because they cannot afford to alienate progressive activists and voters. They certainly do not want to alienate young people. (Ask Hillary Clinton if alienating young voters has any costs.) However, Taiwanese society has hardly reached a consensus in support of marriage equality. The surveys I have seen suggest that support and opposition are about evenly split. I am a bit skeptical of these support levels. While elites and young people have mostly come to a consensus on gay marriage, I suspect the rest of society has not. To put it simply, I doubt that Taiwan has wrestled with this issue enough yet. To too many people, homosexuality is simply an idea rather than an everyday reality of many friends and family. There are still a lot of moms and dads my age or older who grew up with the unchallenged assumption that homosexuality was weird and/or wrong, and you can’t simply tell them that they have been prejudiced all their lives. They will need some time and a lot of discussion before they come around. Moving too quickly could cause a backlash, and I suspect that many DPP legislators intuitively grasp that not everyone in society is comfortable with rewriting the social rules just yet. If there were actually overwhelming support for marriage equality in the DPP caucus, Ker would make it happen quickly. He hasn’t been re-elected party whip time and time again because he ignores the rank-and-file’s wishes. If he is stalling or pushing some compromise package, it is almost certainly because they are asking him to do it. Moreover, like any good floor leader, he is taking the public criticism so that they won’t have to.

So what do I suggest for marriage equality activists? Ker Chien-ming is not your problem. Your problem is that you haven’t yet thoroughly sold Taiwanese society on the idea of marriage equality. To put it another way, the DPP caucus looks like it would like to change the law, but activists haven’t done enough work changing minds among ordinary voters to make DPP legislators feel comfortable taking this step. Rather than bullying or threatening Ker Chien-ming, activists should be focusing on broader society, explaining why marriage equality is a good idea that everyone can support. The good news is that the marriage equality side has good arguments and, with a lot of discussion and persuasion, should be able to produce a stronger consensus in society. When that happens, resistance in the legislature will melt away.

Cross-straits agreements monitoring framework

July 4, 2014

On Monday, June 23, I participated in a conference on legislative oversight at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC. The conference received quite a bit of media coverage, though not necessarily on the topic of legislative oversight. Keynote speaker Su Chi criticized the legislature’s current internal rules, especially the practice of caucus consultations (政黨協商). Caucus consultations are supposedly the darkest corner of Taiwan’s political system. They thwart the will of the majority, enhance corruption, make Speaker Wang into a dictator, erode traditional values of honesty, chastity, and filial piety, and make ice cream taste bitter. (Maybe I’m remembering Su’s talk a bit incorrectly.) Of course, this is all part of the Ma government’s ongoing campaign to purge Wang and tighten its grip over the legislature in an effort to push through its version of the Services Trade Agreement (and other legislation). Caucus consultations[1] are an easy target, but calling for their abolition is more about political infighting than improving the legislative process. I’m not a big fan of caucus consultations, but they exist within a certain context. In order to eliminate this step, you have to also overhaul several other parts of the legislative process. I’ll discuss that some other time in some other post. For now, I’ll note that no one at the Brookings conference disagreed with Su Chi because we were discussing legislative oversight, not caucus consultations.


In this post, I’m going to summarize my presentation. I was asked to discuss the pros and cons of various proposals for the Cross-Straits Agreements Monitoring Framework 兩岸協議監督條例 (CSAMF).

The first thing I learned in preparing for the talk was that oversight may mean something very different in Taiwan than in the US context. In American politics, oversight refers to how Congress monitors, guides, and controls the executive branch as the executive wields the powers delegated to it by Congress. Congress is the source of authority, typically writing a law saying that the executive may do something in order to achieve a certain goal. As such, oversight involves defining policy goals. In Taiwan, most people do not see oversight in the same terms. The Executive Yuan (EY) is given much broader authority to define policy goals, and many people consider the Legislative Yuan’s (LY) job simply to be to scrutinize EY actions in order to ensure that there is no corruption or other obvious failing in implementation. Scrutiny is, of course, also a critical element in American notions of oversight, but the power to set policy goals is much more important. I am not arguing that there is a consensus either in Taiwan or in the USA, but merely that actors in the USA are much more likely to see the legislature’s attempts to guide politics as legitimate than their counterparts in Taiwan.

This basic philosophical question of the appropriate balance of power between the legislature and the executive is evident in the various CSAMF bills. As of last week, five bills had been introduced since the beginning of April, by the EY, TSU, You Mei-nu 尤美女, Li Ying-yuan 李應元, and Chiang Chi-chen 江啟臣. The DPP introduced a bill in January, but that was long before the Sunflower Movement changed everything. The DPP has promised to introduce a new bill, but they had not done so before I left for DC last Saturday.

Of the five current bills, the two most important are the EY bill and the You bill. You is a DPP party list legislator, and the bill was cosigned by most members of the DPP caucus, but this is not a DPP bill. Rather, the You bill represents the Sunflower Movement. It was written primarily by Lai Chung-chiang, a lawyer closely associated with the students, and it presents the Sunflower vision of a strong legislature. Lai explicitly modeled his bill on the American and Korean practices, taking the strongest powers of the legislature from each country. In the Sunflower bill (as I will call it from here on), the legislature is active at every step of the process, laying out goals, deciding how the process will unfold, and actively managing the negotiations. This is in marked contrast to the EY bill, which states explicitly in the proposal that the EY has the power to decide and execute policy and the LY only has the power to oversee (ie: scrutinize) and ratify. In fact, the EY bill does more to restrict the LY than to empower it.

We do not yet have a DPP bill, but based on my limited discussions I will speculate about the DPP’s stance. Remember that this is speculation and may not correctly represent the DPP’s actual positions.

On the philosophical question of an appropriate balance of power between the LY and EY, I got the impression that the DPP wants the legislature to be stronger than it currently is, but not that much stronger.  Fundamentally, the DPP seems to accept the idea that the EY should lead the policy process.


Let’s look at several concrete aspects of the various bills.

All the bills suggest that the EY has the responsibility to report to the LY.  In the EY bill, this is basically the only responsibility the EY has toward the LY.  The EY bill states that the EY has the responsibility to report, explain, and answer questions.  It does not indicate that the EY has any responsibility to heed the reactions to these reports.  Rather, the impression is simply that the EY is informing; the communication seems to be in one direction only.  The Sunflower bill looks quite different.  It states that the LY can require the EY to report at several stages.  Note that now the LY has the initiative to require the report. Moreover, the LY can reject the report or require changes to the EY’s policy direction. Rather than simply listening passively, the LY is an equal (maybe dominant) partner determining the policy line. Further, the Sunflower bill provides for administrative and civil penalties if bureaucrats ignore LY instructions.


One of the thorniest questions is how to deal with associated legislation. Currently, if other changes can be made by executive order, the EY can simply inform the LY of the associated legal changes. These items are sent to the LY “for record” (備查案). Such items are typically read out in committee, but that is all that needs to be done. No vote is taken. The EY makes the decision as to which items can be handled by executive order and which need a law to be amended. This is a fairly large gray area, and the Ma administration has used its leeway aggressively. For example, all of the agreements made before ECFA was signed were simply sent to the legislature for record. This caused quite a bit of consternation to many in the green camp who felt that such important changes needed the approval of the legislature. (Don’t blame Ma for the current rules. They were set up for maximum short-term flexibility under President Chen, whose team was infamously unable to see into the future. This is an important point to remember when the new set of rules is made.)

The EY basically maintains the current system. However, it further strengthens the EY position by adding a time limit to items sent for record. Under the EY bill, if the LY doesn’t process items for record within six months, they are automatically considered approved. That is, the LY cannot passively stall; if it wants to reject an agreement it has to actively vote against it. (A bill introduced by KMT legislator Chiang Chi-chen 江啟臣 is even more extreme: All of the associated legislation is to be considered along with the main agreement, and all of it is voted on in a single package vote.)

The Sunflower bill is radically different. It explicitly says that the main agreement cannot go into effect until all associated legislation is passed, and there is no time limit for this to occur. The EY can still decide what is sent to the LY for record, but the LY can change any item from for record to for consideration (審查案)(requiring a vote) with only a 1/3 vote. Moreover, if the legislature does not process a for record item within three months, it automatically becomes a for consideration item. In short, the LY can passively veto any agreement simply by refusing to act on associated legislation.

The DPP position is unclear. My impression is that the DPP’s main concern is simply to expand the range of items sent as for consideration. That is, anything that really matters should need the active approval of the legislature.


Both the EY and Sunflower bill allow for bodies other than the LY to engage in oversight. The EY bill stresses the importance of national security, and insists that every agreement should be thoroughly reviewed by the National Security Council and also by expert committees. There are two interesting points here. One, the EY bill gives more oversight power to these bodies than to the LY. Whereas the LY is only allowed to listen to reports, the NSC and expert bodies are supposed to weigh in with concrete suggestions that the EY must then take into account. Two, if you don’t already trust the EY, these bodies won’t reassure you very much. The NSC is appointed by the president, so if the president strongly wants something to pass, the NSC probably will not stand in the way. The expert bodies are to have 30 members. 27 will be appointed by parties proportional to their legislative delegations, and the other three will be appointed by the EY. That is, the EY will have a reinforced majority on these expert bodies. (At any rate, expert bodies generally don’t cause problems for the authorities.) In sum, the EY claims that citizens should feel confident that any security issues will be carefully considered by the EY and its allies.

(One wonders if the drive for “security” is really cover for lack of transparency.)

The Sunflower bill places less emphasis on security and more on impact assessments, especially economic, environmental, and human rights impacts. It does this by empowering the LY to hold a series of public hearings, inviting a variety of societal actors to express their opinions. Note that the LY, not the EY, is running the process in this version. This strategy is directly taken from the US Congress, which places great importance on setting up “fire alarms.” (Congress empowers constituents to be able to investigate proposed legislation and alert it whenever they see something that they don’t like. This way members of Congress don’t have to do the hard work themselves.)


Should the legislature have the right to demand changes to an agreement and/or reopening of negotiations? The EY bill states that the LY has the power to accept or reject, not to amend. This position is based on the idea that in multilateral international agreements, any demand for amendments would require reopening negotiations with all signatories, many of whom may already have started their own ratification process. In such cases, demands for amendment are tantamount to rejection.

This logic is a bit disingenuous in the case of cross-straits agreements. Agreements between Taiwan and China are bilateral, not multilateral. If one side demands a change, there is nothing to stop the other side from accepting that change or demanding its own counterchanges. The multilateral necessity for an up or down vote is simply not present.

The Lai bill clearly rejects the EY position. The LY is given the power to demand revisions at every stage. Before the negotiations start, the LY can demand changes to the goals. During negotiations, the LY can demand changes. After the agreement has been signed, the LY can demand that the negotiations be reopened.

The DPP position seems to be somewhere in the middle. The LY should be able to ask for changes. However, practically speaking, this power is unlikely to be used. What the DPP really wants is for the EY to listen to LY demands (formally or informally) earlier in the process and to incorporate LY positions into its own goals. That is, the EY and LY need more communication.


Finally, there is the question of whether political agreements should be treated differently from economic agreements. In the EY bill, there is no distinction. In the Sunflower bill, the threshold is much higher for anything that touches on questions of sovereignty (and a host of other “important” categories). These agreements would need 3/4 approval in the legislature, and then they would need to be approved by the general public in a referendum.


Regardless of whether the legislature approves the Services Trade Agreement, a monitoring framework is needed. My personal opinion is that the EY bill gives far too much leeway to the EY. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that there is more “oversight” in the title of the EY bill than in all the actual articles combined. The LY needs to be involved in order to legitimize the process. Much of the controversy over the current Services Trade Agreement has been caused precisely because the EY seems insistent on monopolizing the entire process. At the same time, I do not think it is practical or desirable to set up an American-style co-equal partnership between the LY and EY. The LY simply doesn’t have the capacity at present to negotiate agreements, and I worry about whether individual legislators would be able to extract too many concessions for their own personal gain. The system will work best if the EY leads the process but also allows a substantial amount of input and supervision from the LY.



[1] I have translated政黨協商 as Inter-Party Negotiations. My colleague Fang-yi Chiou prefers Party Negotiation Mechanism. I will stick with Su Chi’s term in this post.

LY considers restrictions on MAC

January 13, 2014

On Friday, something quite important may have happened.  At the legislature, party leaders agreed to put a fascinating item on the agenda for Tuesday.  The DPP and TSU will introduce a resolution limiting what Mainland Affairs Council Minister Wang Yu-chi can say or do at his upcoming meeting with Chinese counterparts.  Of course, the DPP and TSU don’t have the power to control the agenda.  Critically, the KMT party leaders and Speaker Wang also agreed to let this resolution come before the floor.  The details of the resolution can be found in this story, and, if you read Chinese, these two stories from the front pages of yesterday’s and today’s Liberty Times are a bit more detailed.

The Taipei Times story is on the bottom of page 3, and the United Daily News and China Times buried this story even further back.  They might be correct.  After all, it is quite possible that Tuesday’s legislative business will go unexpectedly slowly and this resolution will never make it off the calendar.  However, I think the Liberty Times’ front page treatment is probably appropriate, and not just because it meshes with their ideological preferences.  This story might be significant in several ways.

First, this resolution is a clear signal to cross-strait negotiators (on both sides) not to expect any major breakthroughs.  The elected politicians are telling the negotiators not to go too far.  They are also telling China not to bother pressing Taiwan for too much at this time.  Even if Minister Wang publicly supports something that China wants, such as the One China framework, they have been publicly notified that this position will be repudiated by the legislature as soon as he gets back.  It might be wiser to wait for another day than to force Taiwan to openly disavow a position.  This direct effect on cross-straits talks is probably the most important angle to the story.  To me, however, it is the least interesting.

Second, this resolution might reflect an adjustment in the relations between the executive and legislative branches.  In a sense, this is an effort to wrest control of a vital policy area away from the executive branch.  Before, the president had been in charge of deciding how fast relations with China could develop.  The legislature has just asserted its prerogative by setting the outer limits of what is acceptable.  That is, they are suggesting that the executive branch can take care of the little details, but the broad vision shall be determined by the legislature.

The closest parallel I can think of comes from American politics.  In the early 1970s, the Vietnam War was increasingly unpopular, and then Nixon ordered a major bombing campaign into Laos and Cambodia.  Congress was fed up with the president’s unilateral use of the American military and passed the War Powers Resolution of 1973, putting limits on the president’s power to use military force.  Congress argued that the US constitution gave them the right to declare war, so the president should not be able to have undeclared wars.  Every president since 1973 has replied that the resolution is unconstitutional, since it inhibits a president’s power to act as commander in chief.  The important point for us is that the power to use the American military had always been considered as one of the major pillars of presidential power.  In 1973, the legislature tried to pry some of that power away from the executive branch by asserting that they, not the president, had the right to determine the broad outlines (which major military conflicts the US would be involved in) of that area of power.  The current resolution in Taiwan is not quite so dramatic.  For one thing, the proposal is for a specific context, not for a general new law.  The resolution will only apply to this visit by Minister Wang.  It does not apply to other delegations that might negotiate in other places or times.  Even so, if the legislature passes the resolution next week, it will be asserting both some very concrete limits for Wang’s upcoming trip AND a more general right to set such limits whenever it sees fit.  I expect that the Ma administration will make at least a minor statement rejecting the legislature’s right to determine the basic course of cross-strait relations.

Third, this story lifts the covers just a little and gives a peek at the KMT’s intense intra-party conflagration.  The war between Ma and Wang is still running hot, even if it isn’t on the front pages these days.  Ma is still pursuing the court case, and there is a good chance that Wang won’t be able to finish out this term.  One of the main complaints from the Ma side about Wang is that he uses inter-party negotiations to get everything he wants.  Here again, the item was put on the agenda in inter-party negotiations, chaired by Wang.  In the Liberty Times stories, Wang says clearly that the KMT reps didn’t want to sign on to the original proposal.  It was only after some give and take that they agreed.  If you read between the lines just a little bit, you can see a resolution that Wang could have easily killed, had he so wished.  Instead, he kept the negotiations alive, cajoled the various sides to give a bit, and produced an agreement that President Ma will absolutely hate.  Wang may genuinely have different preferences than Ma, but it probably didn’t hurt that Ma is trying to politically assassinate him and that this resolution will place humiliating and potentially significant limitations on Ma’s executive branch.

Beyond the feud between Ma and Wang, this also exposes a rift between Ma and the overall KMT legislative caucus.  Putting these preemptive restrictions on Minister Wang basically equates to an admission by the KMT legislative caucus that it doesn’t trust him.  You rarely hear of this sort of thing, except in divided government.  The back channels of communication must not be working very well if the KMT caucus feels it has to send a public message.  President Ma and Minister Wang will hear the message, but so will all the voters.  One part of the KMT is telling the voters that there is a possibility that another part of the party might do something crazy and they are taking steps to ensure that doesn’t happen.  Unified parties don’t do things like this because that telling voters that powerful people in your party are irresponsible is a good way to lose elections.

I’m increasingly persuaded by the argument that Ma is driven by his historical legacy.  To use a more provocative phrase, Ma might have Nobel Fever.  If he does, he will want to do big things with China before he leaves office.  Rather than waiting for the time to be ripe, he needs to act now in the two years he has left.  He can probably already see the shadow of the lame duck creeping up on him, so he has no time to waste.  The rest of the party has a much longer timeline on China.  Their immediate priority is electoral.  They need to cozy back up to public opinion before this year’s elections, and the public is not clamoring for dramatic new agreements with China right now.  This puts Ma at odds with the mainstream of his party, and it seems that the mainstream might be taking precautions to prevent him from pursuing his goals at the expense of theirs.

The resolution might never reach the floor, though if it does I think it will pass.  There are a few extremist legislators who won’t mind going on record as wanting to allow Minister Wang (and the whole ROC government) to support One China or One Country, Two Regions.  However, most will be want to be closer to the median voter.  If they have to vote, they’ll vote for the resolution.  Even if Ma’s allies can mobilize enough support to keep the resolution off the floor, just by putting this item on the agenda the KMT caucus has sent a warning shot to the administration.

legislative deference

December 17, 2013

Everyone else on the net tries to be the first to break the news.  I prefer to think about stories for a while before I comment.  Here is another post about something that is quite out of date.


In a commentary published in last Tuesday’s United Daily News, Su Chi 蘇起 discussed Taiwan’s decline in international competitiveness.  One of the reasons he cites is that Taiwan has acquired a reputation as being an unreliable country in international negotiations.  Several times, the government has negotiated an agreement, and the legislature has delayed ratification, demanded significant modifications, or simply refused to pass it altogether.  Now the legislature is demanding to review the Service Trade Agreement clause by clause, and Su Chi argues that this type of action is eroding Taiwan’s international credibility, which in turn erodes Taiwan’s competitiveness.

I respect Su Chi quite a lot.  He is not a kneejerk ideologue but rather a thoughtful person who quite commonly transcends the neat pro-China / anti-China boxes.  However, on this question, he is simply wrong in placing the blame on the legislature.  More generally, Su’s attack reflects broader shortcomings of the Ma administration, including a strong preference for technocrats, a lack of respect for elected representatives, and a disregard for politics.


The legislature’s insistence on an active role in ratifying international agreements is not eroding Taiwan’s credibility or competitiveness.  If Taiwan’s credibility actually suffers, the blame should fall squarely on the executive branch.  The executive branch knows that anything that they sign needs to pass the legislature.  It is their responsibility to be sure that they don’t sign anything that the legislature won’t ratify.  The executive branch should be in constant contact with legislative leaders while negotiating deals.  They should constantly be asking whether each clause will cause a popular backlash and whether legislators might insist on changing; they should constantly be counting votes; and they should never sign anything that doesn’t have enough votes to pass.  If they insist on signing something that the legislature does not support, they have no right to be surprised, indignant, or petulant when the legislature demands modifications.  If the executive branch signs an agreement without first ensuring that the legislature is on board, then it is the executive that is responsible for any delays or modifications to the agreement.  If Taiwan’s credibility is damaged, that is because the executive branch irresponsibly signed an unrealistic pact.

In fact, Taiwan’s negotiators don’t routinely stay in touch with legislative leaders.  Executive branch negotiators make agreements according to their judgment of what is best for Taiwan and then send the final pact to the legislature to be rubber stamped.  Most bureaucrats would bristle at the notion that they should allow legislators to influence their dealings.  That would simply open the door to pork, favoritism, parochialism, and payoffs to special interests.  From the bureaucratic perspective, elected representatives are dirty, corrupt, and unable to see the big picture.  It is far better to keep them out of the process.

This is a fundamentally undemocratic perspective.  Bureaucrats are themselves often beholden to special interests, though they are usually far less aware of this than legislators.  At any rate, the legislature has a different, broader legitimacy than the executive branch.  The executive gets its legitimacy from the presidential election, but the president ultimately represents only a plurality of the electorate.  Society is complex and pluralistic, and many voices that are shut out of the executive branch can only be heard through the legislature.  Some of these voices may appear to some to be “parochial,” “narrow,” or “special interests.”  However, one person’s special interest is another person’s legitimate cause.  Legislators’ careers depend much more than bureaucrats’ on ensuring that voters do not feel they are being treated unfairly.  Bureaucrats routinely envision the world in idealistic, abstract, or simplistic terms, and can sometimes design policy packages that place undue burdens on particular segments of society.  Legislators are more grounded in the messiness of actual society, and they often soften the rough edges of those policy packages by demanding changes.  The easiest way to see this is to think about extreme cases.  In some authoritarian states, well-meaning bureaucrats have implemented tragically horrifying policies, demanding entire populations relocate, causing famine by ordering boneheaded agricultural policies, and wasting public funds by building grandiose planned cities that no one wants to live in.  (For a depressingly long list of examples, see James C. Scott’s wonderful book, Seeing Like a State.)  These sorts of debacles happen far less frequently in democracies because the elected legislatures step in to stop utopian visions from going through.  Democracy demands that legislatures, with their broader base, also ratify important national decisions.  Getting things through the legislature is not simply an inconvenience; it is a fundamental stage in the democratic process.

More generally, the Ma administration routinely expresses a disdain for “politics” and an admiration for “governing.”  The famous bureaucrats of the Chiang Ching-kuo era, such as Sun Yun-hsuan 孫運璿, Lee Kuo-ting 李國鼎, and CCK himself, are held up as paragons of wisdom, foresight, selflessness, moderation, vision, and fairness.  In contrast, the elected politicians of the democratic era seem small-minded, selfish, petty, and short-sighted.  Of course, the CCK-era technocrats didn’t have to ask the population for power.  In a democratic society, using power wisely is important.  Creating that power is even more important.  Democrats must organize networks, articulate positions, make compromises with other ambitious politicians, and win the support of large numbers of voters before they ever get the chance to govern.  Moreover, after they implement a policy, they must retain power in order to protect and nurture that policy.  Politics – creating power – must come before governance – using power.  Demanding that elected politicians defer to bureaucrats is simply unreasonable and undemocratic.


The current service trade agreement is a repeat of the same old story.  The KMT-led bureaucracy has negotiated a deal with little to no input from the legislature, and now it is demanding that the legislature ratify that deal without any substantive review.  If the legislature exercises its rights to demand changes, the Ma administration should not whine about how the legislature is eroding Taiwan’s international credibility.  The responsibility lies entirely with the executive branch.

The Coming LY Reforms and Tyranny

September 28, 2013

We’re about to move into the October phase of the September Strife.  Things are clearly behind schedule according to President Ma’s original timetable.  Today I want to talk about one of the agenda items that he probably thought would be well on its way to resolution by now.

The first phase of the plan was to remove Wang Jin-pyng as speaker.  This hasn’t happened yet, and the KMT has reacted by trying to hollow out Wang’s power.  However, even if Wang had been eliminated, I think legislative reform was always phase two of the master plan.  Ma might have been happy to build a new system around a new powerful speaker, but (for now) he is also happy to try to build a new system around the party caucus leaders.  The important thing is to rewrite the rules so that the KMT can push its legislation through more quickly and with less alteration.  The KMT leadership has thrown out a few ideas, including eliminating or making public the inter-party negotiation, increasing the minimum size of a party caucus from three to four, referring anyone engaged in fighting to the disciplinary committee, and a couple others that I can’t remember right now.  Rather than discuss the impact of specific proposals, what I want to discuss in this post is the general idea of changing the rules.  Is it a violation of democratic procedure to change the rules?  What minority rights are protected?  Does the majority have a right to rule?  In discussing this, I’m going to draw heavily on political science literature from the US Congress.  I don’t necessarily think that the American answers are the right answers for everyone else.  However, students of the US Congress have wrestled extensively with the question of minority rights vs. majority rule, and we might be able to learn something from them.


Perhaps the most dramatic and important rules change in the history of the US House of Representatives occurred in 1890.  Before 1890, minorities regularly used procedural maneuvers to thwart the majority.  In fact, minorities were so strong that a common rule of thumb was that a two-thirds majority was necessary to get anything done in the House.  The most famous and potent weapon was the “disappearing quorum.”  A quorum is the number of legislators who must be present to conduct business.  The US Constitution sets the quorum at half of the membership of the House.  The Constitution also gives the speaker the power to compel members to attend, but it does not require that members actually vote.  The first member to insist on the right not to vote was John Quincy Adams in 1832.  (Note: Adams was president from 1824-8, and he returned to the House after he lost the 1828 election.)  Minorities quickly realized that the right not to vote could be useful.  The House has historically had fairly good attendance rates, but there are almost always a handful of members who are absent.  If the majority party could not mobilize enough members voting “yes” to form a quorum by itself, the minority members would simply refuse to vote.  Imagine if the House had 100 members, and the majority party had 55.  If 6 majority members were absent, the vote would be 49 to 0 in favor.  However, the minority would point out that there was no quorum, so the bill could not be passed.  Remember, the maximum number of votes the minority could mobilize was 45, so even though the yes votes outnumbered the no votes, the rules allowed the minority to block the bill.  If the majority party was even a little divided, the rebel faction could easily unite with the minority party to block things.  For over 50 years, every minority party, whether Democrat, Whig, or Republican, made heavy use of the disappearing quorum to frustrate majorities.

In 1890, the new Republican speaker, Thomas Brackett Reed, decided to change the rules.  After the speaker election, Reed proceeded to other pressing business.  Usually one of the first items of business is to adopt a new set of House rules.  Reed postponed that decision and turned instead to resolving a disputed election.  In those days, there was usually a disputed result or two.  The House has the power to resolve these disputes, and they always voted on straight party lines.  Since the Republicans had the majority, they wanted to seat the Republican.  The Democrats refused to vote, and the number of votes cast was one fewer than half of the membership.  Democrats objected that there was no quorum, so the result could not stand.  However, Reed asked the clerk to count the roll to see if a quorum existed, and he instructed the clerk to count members present but not voting toward the quorum.  (If I remember correctly, Reed also instructed the Sergeant at Arms to lock the doors so that Democrats could not leave the chamber.)  The House exploded.  Democrats protested that Reed was trampling on the Constitution by ignoring their fundamental democratic right not to be counted.  Why, they asked, should a minority be required to help a bill that they opposed become law?  If the majority wanted it passed, all it had to do was mobilize all of its members in support.  Nonetheless, Reed insisted, and he was supported by his Republican caucus.  A handful of Republicans may have opposed this new rule, but, in the context of a disputed election, they had little choice but to vote the party line to uphold Reed’s ruling.  A few days later, Reed presented a new set of rules which codified this new ruling and also added several other powers to the speaker’s arsenal.  Almost overnight, the House was transformed into an ultra-efficient majoritarian body.  Reed became widely known as “Czar Reed.”  Democrats swore they would repeal the “undemocratic” measures.  However, when they returned to power, they discovered that the old rules led to quite a bit of frustration ,and they ended up adopting a set of rules very similar to Reed’s Rules.


So how should we think about this rules change?  The minority claimed it trampled on their democratic right not to vote, and it was lambasted as a step toward tyranny.  From a comparative point of view, this might seem strange to us.  Is there a right not to vote and to not have one’s presence counted?  This “right” is absent in most of the democracies I am aware of.  It only seemed like a right because it had been the rule for nearly 60 years and people were used to it.  When Reed changed the rules in 1890, the US House did not suddenly cease to be a democratic institution.  The majority party (especially the speaker) was empowered, to be sure.  But this was simply another option in the wide array of possible (democratic) rules choices that the House could choose from.  Looking back from today, the disappearing quorum seems a somewhat bizarre institution and anything but an intuitive fundamental democratic right.

Most political scientists take a decidedly hands off approach to normative questions about minority rights.  Rather than insist that a certain tactic is a protected democratic right, the usual approach is to suggest that minorities have the right to try every obstructionist tactic allowed to them under the rules.  When majorities feel that minorities are too successful in their obstruction, the majorities may try to alter the rules to limit obstruction.

The more interesting question is, when will majorities try to revise the rules?  The answer from the US Congress is that rules are revised when (1) the majority is small, and (2) the majority party is internally cohesive.  When the majority is very large, it can usually crush any obstruction and pass its legislative agenda.  Even if the majority party is internally factionalized, with a large enough majority, it can usually prevail.  However, when the majority party is barely large enough to form a majority, it may have more difficulty getting things done.  The temptation for the minority to use obstruction is much stronger, since they are already very close to winning.  Rules that reduce these opportunities will be very helpful to the majority.  However, the majority only passes new rules when it is internally cohesive.  If the party is divided into factions that don’t trust each other, the non-mainstream faction will not want to give the mainstream faction too much power.  They might prefer to keep rules that allow them to block the mainstream faction.

This borrows from a Madisonian view of democracy.  In Federalist #10, James Madison argues that a large and diverse republic will produce representatives with a variety of preferences.  These representatives will check each other to keep any one interest from dominating.  As Madison famously wrote, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.”  Diversity of interests within any majority is ultimately the best guarantor of minority rights.

I am not entirely satisfied with this formulation.  It seems to imply that the minority has to be satisfied with whatever the majority gives it.  When asked what he considered minority rights to entail, Czar Reed replied that the minority has the right to collect a paycheck.  Similarly, I have heard British politicians say that the minority has the right to complain.  This seems too stark to me.  While I think that determined and cohesive majorities should generally prevail, I also think that minorities must also be allowed to participate meaningfully in the process.  Democratic legitimacy requires that opponents be given the opportunity to oppose, to air grievances, to struggle, and to propose alternatives.  Another way of thinking about this is that obstruction forces the majority party to be sure it really wants a particular policy.  If the minority can strenuously resist, the majority has to show that it is equally determined to support a bill.  Bills that have only tepid support or on which the majority party is internally divided will die.  That is, obstruction allows the majority to show that it has not just numbers, but also intensity of support.

I am advocating a very squishy idea.  Exactly how much opportunity for obstruction is needed for the opposition to be able to meaningfully participate?  I don’t have a good answer to that.  No single rule change will violate this prinicple, yet a large enough package would.  Moreover, the answer may be different in Taiwan than in the USA.  In the USA, minorities in the House can try to influence politics in the Senate, the executive branch, the courts, or in the individual states.  In Taiwan’s unitary and more centralized system, the unicameral legislature may be the only meaningful game in town for a minority force.  This implies that minorities need a larger set of obstructive tools in the Legislative Yuan than in the US House to yield the same degree of legitimacy.


The main point I want to make in this post is that changes to the legislative rules are not inherently anti-democratic.  If (when) the KMT introduces a set of proposed changes, we will hear some very shrill rhetoric claiming that the KMT is trying to suppress the other parties and bring back authoritarianism.  This will be overblown.  Just as the disappearing quorum was not a fundamental democratic right, neither is (for example) the system of inter-party negotiations.  Rules changes are a basic feature of the process in democratic systems as legislatures evolve over time.  Sometimes they empower the majority party, and sometimes they help minorities.  As long as they do not completely emasculate the minorities and preclude meaningful participation in the political process, rules changes generally don’t mean the end of democracy.


Disobedient KMT legislators?

September 24, 2013

Here’s an interesting bit of news.  KMT legislative party whip Lin Hung-chih 林鴻池 announced that the legislature will not take up the nuclear referendum this session.  Lin explained that the Ministry of Economics has not yet produced a safety report, and the legislature cannot be expected to act before that report comes out.

This is interesting to me because my working assumption is that the current KMT political struggle is all about the executive branch demanding that its party members in the legislature toe the party line and pass the executive’s legislative agenda.  According to all accounts, there are three big items on that agenda: the services trade agreement, the nuclear referendum, and the annual budget.  Lin has just told the executive that Santa isn’t giving them everything they want for Christmas this year.

This comes after Ma announced the KMT would rearrange the coordinating meetings between the party, executive, and legislature by replacing Speaker Wang with Party Whip Lin.  Apparently, before the first meeting in which the president, premier, vice-president, and party secretary-general would have told him what to do, Lin pre-empted them by publicly announcing what he would not do.

Ma’s inner circle may have thought that Wang was behind all the obstruction in the legislature and that things would move much more smoothly once his power was hollowed out.  However, if the underlying problem was that many KMT legislators don’t want to be associated with unpopular executive proposals, Ma may be in for a rude awakening.

the root of it all

September 21, 2013

A few posts ago, I expressed uncertainty about why Ma 馬英九 chose to attack Wang 王金平.  After listening to a couple of weeks of shrill rhetoric, I think I have a better guess about what is behind this all.  Please be aware, I am still not sure.  I consider these to be working hypotheses.  As new information comes to light, I will reconsider whether they are still tenable.

In my earlier post, I speculated that the changing composition of the KMT’s legislative caucus might have undermined Wang’s power base.  The idea was that the caucus was becoming increasingly dominated by legislators with a stronger Chinese identity.  Since Wang is commonly referred to as the leader of the “Taiwan KMT,” it was possible that his core support had eroded away.  After listening to various statements from deep blue legislators, I have rejected this hypothesis.  Again and again, legislators who I consider to have a strong Chinese identity have decidedly not turned their backs on Wang.  Instead, the usual reaction is to say something respectful and mildly supportive of Wang while expressing frustration and bewilderment at the power struggle.  To me, it has looked like they are siding as much with Wang as possible without opening themselves up to retaliation from Ma.  At first, the messages of support for Wang were extremely tepid, but they seem to be growing stronger as public support for Wang becomes clearer and clearer.  I don’t think the question of Chinese identity vs. Taiwanese identity is at the core of this conflict, and I’m fairly sure it certainly isn’t shaping a new anti-Wang faction within the KMT legislative caucus.

So why did Ma attack Wang?  Two plausible answers have emerged.  One is the conspiracy theory: KMT party elders were scheming to gut Ma’s power, and Ma’s attack on Wang was a preemptive strike.  This theory is oddly appealing to me, but I ultimately don’t quite buy it at this time.  I’m leaning toward the other story, which is a mishmash of personal grudges, executive vs. legislative worldviews, and opportunistic behavior.

First, let’s look at the conspiracy theory.  The basic story is that several KMT elders were conspiring to force Ma to relinquish his control over the party at the upcoming party congress on September 29.  Four families are said to be behind this conspiracy, and all four have a senior patriarch and a younger active politician.  The four elders are Lien Chan 連戰, Hau Pei-tsun 郝柏村, Wu Po-hsiung 吳伯雄, and Kao Yu-ren 高裕仁 高育仁.  Their ambitious progeny are Sean Lien 連勝文, Hau Lung-pin 郝龍斌, Wu Chih-yang 吳志揚, and Eric Chu 朱立倫.  Collectively, that is an impressive list of KMT royalty.  The four families supposedly wanted to force Ma Ying-jeou to publicly accept responsibility for the 2014 local elections.  If the KMT did poorly, Ma would be obliged to step down as party chair, and the four families wanted to replace him with Wang Chin-pyng.  This would give them control of the party and allow them to determine nominations for the 2016 presidential and legislative elections.  Of course, simply accepting such a proposal would immediately label Ma as a lame duck, and his power would inevitably ooze away as the 2014 election approached unless, by some unexpected twist, the KMT’s popularity somehow reversed its downward slide.  Since Ma has two and a half years left in his presidency and presumably wants to accomplish a few more things in that time, he had to stop this plot.  Removing Wang accomplished two things.  First, it eliminated Wang as a vehicle to replace Ma.  Wang is generally liked within the party, and any alternate vehicle would almost certainly be more controversial.  Second, it sent a clear message to the four families to back down.  Ma was still powerful and dangerous, and they would do well not to antagonize him.

Note that the conspiracy theory is not predicated on a Chinese/Taiwanese cleavage.  While Ma and Wang are supposedly leaders of the Chinese KMT and Taiwanese KMT, the cleavage breaks down when you look at the four families.  I don’t know much about Kao Yu-jen’s stance, but Lien Chan and Wu Po-hsiung are two of the very few politicians more pro-unification than Ma and those two pale next to Hau Pei-tsun.  If those three are on Wang’s side, which side is the deeper blue?

I’m not usually fond of conspiracy theories, but I find this one oddly attractive.  There are three aspects that appeal to me.  First, this story provides a clean motive for Ma’s attack.  This political struggle is first and last about who will hold political power within the KMT.  One group of politicians (the four elders) ran the party during President Chen’s first term, but Ma used his popularity with the general public to wrest control of the party away and push them to the sideline.  Now, with his popularity waning, they are counter-attacking.  If they can get control of the party, they can put their sons into power and control the KMT for a new generation.  I have always thought that Lien (certainly not Wang) was the biggest threat to Ma’s power, and this conspiracy theory is built on that idea.

Second, I love the idea that elections play a crucial role in this conspiracy theory.  One of the worst things about the new electoral calendar is that the new president and legislature go nearly three full years without any elections.  A lot of policy-oriented people love this, because the new regime can act freely and implement policies it considers necessary for a period of time without worrying about whether they are popular with the public.  I hate it for exactly the same reason.  In a democracy, I think it is a bad thing for a government to try to force through unpopular policies.  If you can’t convince the public that a certain policy is a good idea, you probably need to rethink the policy.  This long period with no elections is not a major problem if the party in power remains popular.  However, if there is evidence that the public has withdrawn its support, the government may lack sufficient legitimacy to implement major policies.  Just this morning, the TSU party chair Huang Kun-huei 黃崑輝 called for Ma to stop all negotiations with China (especially over setting up representative offices on the other side) because a president with only 9.2% satisfaction has no legitimacy to represent the Taiwanese people in negotiations with China.  I partially share Huang’s concern.  The KMT government has been miserably unpopular since the beginning of Ma’s second term, and it sometimes seems oblivious to this.  Ma is moving ahead with major policies, and I’m not sure that public support still underpins these efforts.  Would he dare to try to pass the service trade agreement if there were an election two months from now instead of fourteen months away?

Huang’s argument is not entirely unfair, but a low satisfaction rating doesn’t necessarily mean that Ma has lost public support on China policy.  It could be that former supporters are happy with Ma’s China policy but unhappy with other things, such as political infighting, corruption scandals, or public encroachment on private property.  What Ma needs is an election to either renew his legitimacy or politically emasculate him.

I initially had a similar reaction to the Wang episode.  Ma would never have dared to try to assassinate Wang if an election were only two months away.  However, since voters will probably have moved on to other concerns in fourteen months, Ma was free to plunge the party into a round of vicious infighting.

However, the four families theory completely reverses this conclusion.  In the conspiracy theory, Lien, Hau, and the others are relying on public opinion to punish the KMT in the 2014 local elections.  That is, Ma’s poor performance, public disaffection, and an expected backlash at the polls combine to form the lever that the elders can use to pry power away from Ma.  If Ma were still a popular president, they would have no opportunity.  In fact, rather than needing to strike out to stop the plot, he would welcome the opportunity to take credit for an expected KMT victory and increase his own power.  This political infighting isn’t happening because actors are unconcerned about elections; it’s happening precisely because they are all thinking squarely about elections!  In short, the four families conspiracy theory implies that politicians can never stop worrying about public support and future electoral outcomes!  (Imagine me weeping tears of joy.)

The third reason I am attracted to the conspiracy theory is counterintuitive to me.  I would like it to be true because it suggests China is cultivating a new generation of collaborators within the KMT.  (What???  Clearly, this one needs some explaining.)

While the conspiracy theory was circulating through the TV talk shows, one scene kept popping up over and over.  Xi Jinping 習進平 was receiving guests at some function, and Lien Chan was standing by his side.  The guest they all showed was Lien Chan’s son, Sean Lien.  Lien Chan said something to Xi Jinping, presumably introducing his son, the two shook hands, and the younger Lien moved off.  There was no audio, but the visual was quite evocative, if you wanted to attach some meaning to it.  If you choose to see it as an innocent event, it was simply a polite formality.  However, if you want to read more into it, it looked like Lien was presenting his son to the Chinese leader as a future important person in Taiwan politics who the Chinese would do well to be aware of.  If you want to go even further, from the Chinese point of view, you could see it as China finding a new client in Taiwanese politics to build their Taiwan policy around.

This is a big problem for Ma Ying-jeou.  His presidency is built around the idea that he can deliver better relations with China.  He certainly would reject the notion that he is a Chinese client or collaborator (as would the Liens).  He sees himself more as a partner in an effort to reshape cross-strait relations.  To this point, Ma and Hu/Xi have had a fruitful partnership, with each seeing the other as a helpful ally.  However, the Sean Lien clip seemed to imply that China has moved on.  Maybe Ma is no longer their Great Hope.  Maybe his star has faded, and they have started to look for another Taiwanese politician to work with.  One can easily imagine that if they are looking at Sean Lien, they are also looking at other next-generation KMT leaders.  That would be disaster for Ma.  He still has two and a half years, and he needs Beijing to think that all political efforts must go through him.  If China is exploring alternate conduits, Ma is already a lame duck.  In this variant of the story, Ma had to counterattack forcefully to publicly reassert his authority not just to other KMT members but also for Beijing to see.

Why do I find this comforting?  It paints Ma as dispensable, and it therefore reduces the urgency to get things done.  When Ma was elected president, I was worried the Beijing might have unrealistic expectations.  After all, Ma could not afford to stray too far from public opinion, and Beijing might be disappointed when he did not deliver unification.  The scary point was that Beijing seemed to have marked Ma as the Great Hope.  Ma was the most pro-unification politician they could reasonably expect to be able to win the presidency.  If they couldn’t get unification under Ma, when would they ever get it?  And if they couldn’t get peaceful unification from the elected politicians, would they be more inclined to go to the military option?  The conspiracy theory allays that fear.  Beijing can now dream about a future working with the sons of Lien Chan, Hau Pei-tsun, and/or Wu Po-hsiung, and they know that those three are ardently in favor of unification.  (The lineage is just a bonus for the blatantly pro-nepotism Chinese regime.)  They don’t have to resolve the question of Taiwan’s status now because there may be another pro-China president in Taiwan sometime in the near future.  In fact, if the KMT will always produce politicians eager to become Chinese clients (and I’m sure that’s how the Chinese see them), China can even afford to wait out a DPP president or two.  In game theoretic terms, they have learned that this is a repeated game, not a single-shot game.  There is a future they can dream about, and that means they don’t have to solve everything in the present.

While I’m attracted to the conspiracy theory, I don’t quite buy it as the actual root cause of the current political struggle.  There are two main reasons.  First, there seems to be no concrete evidence for it.  As far as I can tell, it originated in the swirl of talk shows in the first few days of the crisis.  Unsubstantiated rumors are common in that forum, and they are often completely false.  The story really hit the mainstream when the United Daily News put it on the front page.  However, the UDN’s only source was “media reports.”  In other words, I think they were basing it on the talk show rumors.  No one has been able to trace this story back to a concrete source, not even an anonymous concrete source.  If the four families were really plotting to emasculate Ma at the party congress, they would have to organize a lot of people to be ready to vote.  Word would leak out, and we would presumably have at least one person willing to talk about it.  Instead, everyone, including members of the four families, has vehemently denied that any plot exists.  So no evidence, no conspiracy.  Or maybe not.  As one of my friends reminded me, if you are plotting to assassinate the king, you don’t tell anyone beforehand.  If word leaks back to the king, the assassination is doomed.  You have to swear everyone to absolute secrecy if the plan is to work.  (For example, Ma’s strike against Wang was a complete surprise to everyone.)  Still, the complete lack of evidence seems to me a major blow against the conspiracy theory.

The second problem compounds this lack of evidence.  As my brilliant wife pointed out, Ma’s team might be playing us for suckers.  As I pointed out above, the conspiracy theory explains why Ma had to launch a preemptive strike.  In other words, it’s not his fault!  Instead of blaming Ma for proactively causing this vicious and unpopular party infighting, the conspiracy theory points the blame elsewhere and recasts Ma as the innocent victim.  He didn’t want to fight, but he was forced to!  And how did this story leap from the crazy lunatic periphery into mainstream consciousness?  It was the front page story on the United Daily News, which has loudly and enthusiastically supported Ma throughout this struggle!  Did the Ma camp plant the story to make us sympathize with him?  That seems as likely to me as the possibility that the story is actually true.

So without any concrete evidence in favor of the conspiracy theory and a very good reason to be wary of it, I am forced to search for another explanation.  Depending on how events in the KMT party congress unfold in a few days, I may revisit the conspiracy theory, but for now I’m leaning against accepting it.

I’m going to label the story that I’m leaning toward as the mishmash theory, because it combines several of the other explanations floating around into one (hopefully) coherent story.

The first ingredient is the lingering grudge.  Listening to various pro-Ma statements, I have become convinced that there is a long-term feeling within Ma’s camp that Wang is a bit corrupt.  Wang is, of course, deeply embedded in factional politics in Kaohsiung, and local factions have a well-deserved reputation for corruption.  Moreover, Wang has been the leader of the central and southern KMT legislators for years, and this is another way of saying that he is the leader of the local faction wing of the party.  It is not hard to imagine that he has done countless favors for people of questionable ethics over the years, and many within Ma’s camp might see him as representing institutionalized corruption.  This apparently spilled out into the open in the 2005 party leadership and 2007 presidential nomination struggles, when Ma claimed to be fighting against black and gold within the party.  Of course, Ma publicly made peace with Wang and has been working with him over the past six years.  However, I sense now that this may always have been a very tense relationship, or at least that Ma and his people considered it a necessary evil to accommodate someone who they thought practiced and/or enabled systematic corruption within the KMT.  I think of this lingering distaste as a background factor.  By itself, it would not have been sufficient to spur an attack.

The second element is the critical one.  It looks like the executive and legislative branches have very different views of how politics are operating.  In particular, the executive branch seems to think that the legislature is not acting promptly enough on its legislation, and, when it does act, it is amending bills far too much.  Further, the executive branch is focusing its dissatisfaction on Wang Chin-pyng.

The clearest statement of this that I have seen comes from the United Daily News editorial from last Tuesday, September 27, titled 『王金平與台北地院的「80/20法則」­』。  I suspect this editorial had indirect, and maybe even direct, input from the presidential office.  It is written from the perspective of the executive branch and complains that Wang routinely negotiates away most of the social benefits of the laws that the executive is trying to pass.  What he doesn’t negotiate away, he collects for himself.  He then uses these resources to consolidate his own power within the legislature.  The editorial complains that the legislature is no longer a collective decision making body.  Instead, Wang decides everything unilaterally.  Behind the closed doors of the inter-party negotiations 政黨協商, Wang decides what bills will come to the floor, what amendments will be allowed, how much the opposition parties will be allowed to protest, and everything else.  Because Wang has so many resources at his disposal (from the “tax” he takes on every bill), he can dictate terms to all the parties.  Thus, Wang is systematically siphoning away benefits from the general public to further his own grip over the legislature, much to the chagrin of the executive branch.

These charges don’t all quite make sense to me.  For example, I think it is probably unrealistic to think that Wang dominates the interparty negotiations.  The various parties probably play the dominant roles.  However, one can see where some of the complaints come from.  The executive branch sends lots of bills to the legislature, and the legislature doesn’t simply pass them all.  I looked at the success of government bills several years ago.  Even in the Lee Teng-hui era, with unified party control over the executive and legislature, only about 50-60% of government bills were passed by the legislature.  Of those, most were amended at least a bit.  In other words, most of the legislation written by the executive branch either died in the legislature or was changed significantly.  I don’t know what the success rate in the current legislature is, but I imagine it is similar.  From the executive point of view, this is awful.  They spend years researching bills and putting together a coherent bill that they believe properly balances the various legitimate interests in society.  Then legislators, worrying about their parochial (read: corrupt) interests, either block those bills or rewrite them and destroy that careful balance.

I’m not sure why they have focused all their frustration on Wang.  It might feed back into the idea (see above) that he has always been the center of corruption in the legislature.  Since he is at the center of all negotiations in the legislature, they could make the leap to believing that he must be responsible for all delays and amendments (which they apparently interpret as illegitimate attempts to extract resources).

There are also a couple of anecdotes (from different sources) about Wang upbraiding KMT floor leaders.  He is supposed to have reprimanded both Lin Yi-shih 林益世 and Lin Hung-chih 林鴻池 (at different times) for claiming credit with the executive branch when some legislation was passed but blaming Wang for obstruction when legislation did not get through.  These stories support the notion that the executive branch might blame Wang for all bad things.  After all, the KMT floor leaders may have been presenting the events to them in exactly that way.

One does not get this same sort of view of Wang as the corrupt dictator of the Legislative Yuan from KMT legislators.  As I mentioned above, most KMT legislators seem rather bewildered in their comments, as if they don’t quite understand just why the executive branch has chosen to launch this assault on Wang.  I’ve been listening very carefully for any KMT legislator to suggest that Wang wasn’t expediting legislation through the process efficiently enough, and I haven’t heard anything like that.  Instead, they seem to think they are doing a responsible job, carefully considering the drafts sent to them by the executive and the needs of the public.  Unlike the executive, they do not seem to have any sense that the executive bills are polished and should be passed as is.  Rather, executive bills are starting points that often need sharp edges smoothed out.  All the delay, negotiations, and amendments to allay the concerns of various interests in society are anything but institutionalized corruption.  They are instead the legitimate process of how the elected representatives forge legislation in a representative democracy.  Making sausage is messy.

Critically, there is a distinct lack of legislative experience in Ma’s executive branch.  Vice President Wu is the only inner circle member (I can think of) with legislative experience.  (Wu was not a particularly active or influential legislator.  He seemed to regard his time in the legislature as a waiting period until he could return to a more important job in administration.)  Neither Ma nor Jiang ever served in the legislature, and I’m having a hard time thinking of any cabinet member who has.  Ma likes academics and technocrats, and this may be harming him now.  His cabinet may have unrealistic expectations about how the legislative process works and how much deference they should expect from the legislature.

The third element in the mishmash theory is bumbling opportunism.  Ma and his cronies saw a golden opportunity to remove Wang, and they leapt at it.  Unfortunately, they did not anticipate the court’s injunction, and they seriously misjudged the reaction within the party and among the general public to their charges against Wang.

I’ve talked about the court decision in another post.  Here, I’m going to discuss why the opportunity looked so golden to Ma’s team.  I don’t know whether Ma asked the SID to find dirt on Wang or whether they found it first and then gave it to him.  The important thing for this story is that Ma learned of Wang’s lobbying the prosecutor on behalf DPP legislative leader Ker Chien-ming 柯建銘.

Keep in mind that, according to my mishmash theory, Ma’s camp already considered Wang to be corrupt.  Now they had a clear piece of evidence proving it.  Ma probably mistakenly thought that the rest of the party and the general public also shared his view of Wang as corrupt.  The public hates corruption, so Ma may have thought they would welcome his attack.  Think about how the public has reacted to recent cases.  When Lin Yi-shih 林益世 and Lai Su-ru 賴素如 were accused of corruption, the public immediately rushed to condemn them.  There was no assumption that they might not be guilty.  When Yen Ching-piao 顏清標 was convicted of the relatively minor offense of trying to get an improper reimbursement, the public rejoiced in his downfall.  After all, Yen was corrupt and everyone knew it.  Who cares what the charge was.  Wang Chin-ping, like Lin and Yen, was a local faction leader.  Ma probably lumped him together with them in his mind, and he may have expected the public to do so as well.  He was going to take a stand against corruption, and the public would support him.

The fact that Wang interceded on behalf of Ker, a DPP legislator, probably also weighed in Ma’s thinking.  How could he help someone from the opposition party?  Ma may have thought that KMT members would be disgusted with this and view Wang as something of a traitor.  Alternatively, Ma may have seen this as one more piece of Wang’s institutionalized corruption.  Wang used his power to exercise influence on and for everyone, regardless of party.  Of course he would help Ker, because Ker would be expected to return the favor by deferring to Wang’s dictates in inter-party negotiations.

If Ma expected to win the battle for hearts and minds, the propitious timing may have convinced him he could also win the actual fight quickly and cleanly.  I simply can’t believe the protestations that Ma did not know about Wang’s trip to a remote Malaysian island.  The timing is too perfect.  Ma must have learned about the trip and scheduled his attack to maximize the chances of success.  He could make his accusations the minute Wang left the country and get a vote through the KMT disciplinary committee almost before Wang returned.  There would never be another chance like this one to remove Wang.  After the surgical strike, Ma was confident he could win any legal challenges and/or strip Wang’s seat before he had a chance to react.  Faced with a fait accompli, any opposition within the KMT would simply melt away.  After all, the first rule of politics is to end up on the winning side.  This whole episode would be completely settled by the party congress at the end of the month, which would serve to confirm the new status quo.

With hindsight, we now know almost all of these assumptions to be wrong.  Ma conducted his lightning strike, but he lost the legal challenge.  Instead of a triumphant confirmation of his victory at the party congress, he is now digging in for a desperate tooth-and-nail fight for survival that figures to last for several bloody months.  Moreover, he will have to fight this battle without the benefit of public support.  Instead of hailing his blow against corruption, the public has reacted very negatively.  It seems they didn’t view Wang as particularly corrupt, and they have been much more concerned about Ma’s improper use of the SID than Wang’s lobbying of the prosecutor.

Like the conspiracy theory, the mishmash theory is also not a story of a clash between Chinese identity and Taiwanese identity.  There are plenty of deep blue KMT legislators who have not lined up behind Ma.

Instead, the mishmash theory is really about a more universal theme in presidential politics, the fundamentally different ways in which the executive and legislative branches view the world.  Presidents in many countries view the legislature as corrupt and parochial.   Legislators, they think, are elected by special interests and depend on clientelism, factions, vote-buying, pork, locally influential extremists, and demagoguery to win their seats.  How can they represent the people?  In contrast, the president is elected by all the people in an election with a much stronger focus on issues that the people care about.  The executive branch presents policies that balance the needs of all the people.  When the special interests based in the legislature use their influence to emasculate the president’s policies, this is a travesty.  Democracy is subverted!  Legislators, of course, see the world in very different terms.  They are on the front lines and understand how people at the grassroots feel much better than the distant and imperious president.  If anything, the collective popular mandate of the legislature is greater than that of the president since they collectively represent a far more diverse set of interests than the president.  The democratic system requires them to examine executive bills carefully and consider the potential adverse impacts on their constituents.  Of course the legislature modifies and rejects executive bills: democracy demands it!

The mishmash theory is also about what psychologists call the Fundamental Attribution Error.  The idea is that when I do bad things, it is because of the circumstances.  When you do bad things, it is because your character is seriously flawed.  Ma was willing to attribute all the shortcomings to Wang’s flawed character.  Every time the legislature demurred, it reflected Wang’s innate corruption.  At the same time, Ma didn’t worry too much about improperly obtaining information about Wang from the SID.  That was circumstances, not character.  Unfortunately for Ma, many other people viewed Wang’s actions as the result of circumstances and Ma’s own actions as a reflection of his character.

Let me end this post with a quick caveat.  Please remember that this is all still speculation.  I don’t know for sure if any of this is right.  I think the mishmash theory makes for a plausible explanation of recent events, but I’m still not 100% sure that it is correct.  Even if it is largely correct, there are probably important details that are wrong.  I consider it to be a working hypothesis, and it is subject to revision as we learn more.

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.

Wang Jinping keynote speech

May 17, 2010

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.