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Sunday, September 10, 2006


Taiwanese politics: Stuck where the sun don't shine

As the clock ticks down on Shih Ming-teh’s (hopefully) final 15 minutes of fame, Taiwan’s major parties have unveiled plans for competing “sunshine laws” (陽光法案, yang guang fa an) that aim to root out the corruption that has come to define Taiwanese political culture.

According to the linked Taipei Times editorial above, the KMT announced that it would roll out four new anti-corruption bills to curb what it says are the excesses of the Chen Shui-bian administration. The ruling DPP answered with nine of its own bills. So how exactly do the competing sets stack up against each other? Taiwan News describes the KMT’s bills:
“The four sunshine laws the KMT would like to see passed are a political party bill, a lobbying bill, amendments to the Public Functionary Assets Disclosure Law, and amendments to the Political Donations Law.

The main focus of the proposed political party bill, [the Handsome KMT Chairman] Ma (Ying-jeou) said, included applying the Public Service Election and Recall Law to the elections of party officials, prohibiting political parties from setting up organizations in any government agency or the military, prohibiting the president from heading a political party, and prohibiting political parties from running or investing in profitable businesses.

With regard to the lobbying bill, Ma said that certain procedures, such as registration for lobbying, would have to be followed to ensure an open system. The new law, Ma added, would help prevent conflicts of interest and crack down on improper transfers of benefits.

Citing first lady Wu Shu-chen's (吳淑珍) failure to declare her jewelry as an example, Ma said the new amendments to the Public Functionary Assets Disclosure Law would allow for tighter monitoring of public servants' property to deter graft and corruption.

Finally, the proposed amendments to the Political Donation Law are aimed at ridding the system of loopholes in existing laws, Ma concluded.”

Meanwhile, the DPP’s laws are described in this ChineseNewsNet article:

Competing with the KMT’s sunshine laws, the DPP is advocating nine sunshine laws and has listed them as a priority in the next legislative session. These include: a law to establish a “Clean Politics” organization, a lobbying law, a legislator behavior law, a public servant property declaration law, a public servant election and recall law, a public servant conflict of interest law, a political donation law, political party law, statutes barring political parties from improperly acquiring property, among other legislative actions.

The DPP points out that the KMT advocates creating a “political party law” while the DPP version emphasizes “prohibiting political parties from engaging in business operations and investing in for-profit ventures”, which would target the KMT’s use of its enormous assets in elections [read: “black gold” used to buy votes]. The law would be put into use to put a check on such behavior to allow for parity between parties.

The KMT has opposed a statute regulating improper acquirement of assets for years; if it were to continue opposing the creation of such a statute its own “sunshine laws” would ring false. However, if the KMT and PFP table their own version of such a bill, there may be more room for the parties to negotiate.

DPP Deputy Secretary General Tsai Huang-liang welcomed Ma’s decision to propose the four sunshine laws, but said the KMT must practice what it preaches. He also has suspicions that the KMT’s proposals are still lacking, since it didn’t propose anything to handle corruption among public servants or a law to establish a “clean government” body.

The DPP stresses it is pushing this “sunshine” legislation through to establish a clean political climate, and that only by working through established precedents of negotiation and interaction, and not the oversimplified logic of “pro-depose Chen” and “retain Chen” camps, can a clean and stable democratic Taiwan be established in line with current social expectations.

Pretty heady stuff, this. But it does raise a good point, namely that neither party can afford not to address the issue of corruption any longer.

Since we’re still waiting for the actual bills to be publicized when the legislature reconvenes later this month, we don’t have a lot to play with other than these bare-bones public announcements by party leaders. We can, however, draw much by looking at the perceived problems each set aims to remedy.

One conclusion we can draw on is that the KMT’s focus on curbing the excesses of the executive branch reveals the view of the corruption issue as a tool with which the party can make short-to-medium term gains against the DPP in general and President Chen in particular. Additionally, as DPP Dep. Sec.-Gen. Tsai (sorry, I’m on an abbreviation jag today) said, the KMT’s lack of a “party asset” law shows the party’s ambivalent attitude toward the idea of throwing open the windows and airing out the its own political locker room. The DPP’s package addresses not only long-standing problems that exist within the executive, but the equally vexing concerns created by legislators who abuse their positions by publicly flinging libelous accusations around like so much chimpanzee poop (I’m lookin’ at YOU, Chiu Yi!).

The DPP has the most to gain from these reforms, since their passage would do much to distance the party from the Chen family’s current woes while creating a strong mechanism for finally cleaning up corrupt KMT-dominated county and township-level politics. Given that the KMT will only have Chen around for two more years at the most before public attention once again returns to its own questionable practices, the pan-blues can only hope to play defense on the issue and put up enough of a fight to force the DPP to agree to a watered-down set of sunshine laws.


At 4:41 AM, Anonymous vvv said...

Michael, I think it would be useful to write articles or link to existing articles which give basic background info necesarry to understand politics in Taiwan. For example, I thought judges were appointed, but Feiren tells me they get their job by passing a test.? Article headings could be given on your main page like: 'Taiwan's judiciary' 'Taiwan's executive branch' etc.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Michael Turton said...

The KMT's sunshine law aim at the executive branch is also part of their larger strategy at curbing that office, directly elected by the people, and promoting the Premier, whom they hope to source from the legislature, which they control.



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