Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bill of MAttainder

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed. -- US Constitution, Article I, Section 9; Clause 3

Wiki has some interesting comments on the passage of bills aimed at declaring the actions of specific persons illegal....

A bill of attainder (also known as an act or writ of attainder) is an act of legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime, and punishing them, without benefit of a trial. The United States Constitution forbids both the federal and state governments from enacting bills of attainder, in Article 1, Sections 9 and 10, respectively. It was considered an excess or abuse of the British monarchy and Parliament.

The reason we outlaw ex post facto laws aimed at individuals is precisely because they are widely recognized as tyrannical. Not only do they impair separation of powers, since through them the legislature usurps the function of the judiciary, they also eliminate due process, in that they declare an individual guilty and his person forfeit to the state without the benefit of trial.

Yet the DPP is busy pursuing an essentially similar bill right at the moment....

The Legislature is expected to debate Friday on a proposal that seeks to bar corrupt politicians from running for president -- a bill widely considered targeted against former Kuomintang Chairman Ma Ying-jeou, who is being tried for corruption and is planning to run for president.

The so-called "Ma Ying-jeou Bill" seeks to ban people from becoming presidential or vice presidential candidates after they are convicted of corruption. The ban will be in place until they are eventually vindicated.

The Legislative Rules Committee put the bill on the agenda of the Friday plenary session of the Legislature after Kuomintang lawmakers were outvoted by their Democratic Progressive Party counterparts Tuesday.

The KMT deputies lost the vote on the DPP-initiated bill as their allies from The People First Party played no show at the meeting of the Rules Committee, which is in charge of scheduling reviews of bills.

DPP whip Legislator Chen Chin-der said the party will mobilize all of its lawmakers to the Friday session, and they will respect whatever decision their PFP colleagues may make.

The current law holds that a person may be barred from standing for office after conviction only after his appeals have run out. But the DPP wants to change the law to make the initial conviction sufficient. Once convicted, regardless of the status of the appeal, an individual would not be able to run for President.

The bill is obviously aimed at Ma Ying-jeou, who is obviously guilty, for the special funds money is obviously in his accounts and obviously has been piling up for eight years, the reason he has been able to live apparently beyond his means. Ma is almost certain to be convicted, though no doubt his Blue pals in the judiciary and prosecutorial offices -- which are heavily Blue -- will get him off with a light sentence.

The political unwisdom of this move is also obvious, but it is worth reviewing. There are two issues here. First, the bill itself is manifestly unfair, and to the extent that it is unfair, it is undemocratic. Worse, it sets a poor precedent for the future, when the DPP may have less control over the legislature. Worst of all, it arrogates more power to a legislative body that already has far too much power and is seeking to usurp the functions of other parts of the government. Fortunately this law will never be passed, but DPP support sets an awful precedent that reflects negatively on the Party.

The second issue is more interesting. I am pretty confident that Ma can be beat, and so are many others (I know something you don't know, nyah, nyah, nyah). For Pete's sake -- the DPP ought to welcome a run by Ma, which they can use to highlight the simple fact that the KMT will never let a Taiwanese stand for high office and is a party run by and for the power of a core of mainlander elites, instead of for the whole island, committed to a future of subservience to China. Ma is an ideal opponent because he perfectly complements the DPP's program of identity politics ("Do you want to elect the man China wants in power?").

The likely alternatives to Ma are either Lien Chan, a ban shan ('half-mountain,' a derisive reference to Taiwanese collaborators who followed the 'central mountain,' Chiang Kai-shek) who was born on the mainland but comes from a Taiwanese background, and Wang Jyn-ping, who is a longshot but is an islander who has already publicly complained about the fact that the KMT is run by and for the mainlander core. Lien will be no problem to beat, but for that reason he will probably not be put forward, so the party candidacy will probably default to Wang -- Taiwanese vs. Taiwanese. That might be good for Taiwan -- both sides might then have to put forward actual public policies, not merely programs that involve spraying concrete all over the countryside -- but then the DPP would have a harder time nullifying the KMT's cash advantages by appeals to ethnicity. And this election, I suspect, there will be quite a lot of Chinese money involved. Moreover, Wang is very well connected with the KMT's 'southern' (read Taiwanese) legislators -- the DPP's traditional area of strength -- whereas Ma's base is in the north, where he robs no votes from DPP areas.

The DPP's move against Ma shows a petty vindictiveness and a lack of confidence. The party of progress and democracy ought instead to be calling for a big-hearted amnesty for all victims of this law, and an end to the Special Funds. Ma has already been proven to be a crook and a pathetic one at that; let's not belabor the point and turn him into a martyr.

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