Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some Disturbing Thinking about Party Discipline

I've been reading on Facebook and Forumosa some quite disturbing opinions about the party disciplinary action by both the KMT and the DPP against city councilmen who voted against their own parties in the recent city council speaker and deputy speaker elections in the five municipalities. To wit:
Su Jia-chyuan said he will recommend that the party's Central Advisory Committee kick out those named by the respective council caucuses as having failed to vote according to caucus resolutions in the elections for speakers and deputy speakers in the five special municipalities.

One of these apparent wayward councilors was Lee Wan-yu of Xinbei City, who cast her ballot for herself rather than for the party's nominee for speaker. DPP Xinbei City branch chief Wu Ping-jui said Lee violated the caucus resolution and that the caucus has therefore decided to kick her out. An official request to that effect will be sent to the party headquarters the following day, Wu added.
The KMT is mulling similar action against its own party members. Many people appear to think that discipline was the antithesis of democracy. But actually it is democracy in action.

This is just a variation of the old principal-agent problem. If you hired a lawyer to represent you, and he entered a guilty plea when you instructed him to plead you not guilty, you'd can him. Similarly, if you played guitar professionally, you'd fire a manager who got you juggling gigs. If you owned a store and told the salesman to sell the cameras at $500 and he sold them for $1, you wouldn't let the salesman plead that "it's democracy." He'd be gone.

There's no difference here.

The vote for city council members is a procedural move to determine a party's clout in that deliberative body. By voting against your own party, you vote against your party's clout in that body, thereby reducing your future effectiveness and that of your fellow party members. Further, you give voters -- not just your voters but all your party's voters -- the middle finger, since you reduce your party's clout.

Representatives who take the resources of Party A to get elected and then vote for Party B are immoral and untrustworthy. They should be disciplined, like any contract breaker. That will send a signal to future voters that the party is worth doing business with.

You might argue that representatives should be able to vote their consciences. Sure, as a voter I might forgive a representative for voting her conscience on an issue of conscience, but there is no issue of conscience here. This is a procedural vote.

Further, the wrong votes are all about either corruption or faction fighting or personal politics, the triple curse of politics here in Taiwan. No one is voting against their own party's recommendation as an act of conscience.

One powerful way to end the corruption, factionalization and personalization of politics in Taiwan is to enforce party discipline and punish individuals who engage in those practices. That way we get more democracy. That way we get functioning parties that can carry out policy programs, which is why we put them in office in the first place.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


Hans said...

I've been thinking about similar issues as well. If it was meant to be a secret ballot, then why were there "observers" from the party?

I found it ridiculous that the KMT Taipei City caucuses had to give their fingerprints in order to identify the "black sheep." However, ain't this quite a parallel issue with the presence of an observer at the scene of an anonymous election?

Your analogy of "procedural election," does make sense. The voters would want the representative to be in line with the party, unless otherwise.

If that's the case, wouldn't it make more sense to open these "procedural election" to the public, so the voters would know "clearly" whether their respective counselors have follow their will?

Michael Turton said...

The obvious reason for secret ballots in a procedural vote of this nature is to protect the corrupt. If votes are secret no one can know whose votes were purchased. The solution is, as you note, open ballots.


philippe mckay said...

i think taipeitimes should have a section dedicated to corruption policy, social policy and education policy. even if it's online.

these discussions are so piece meal lacking the perception of critical mass.

Okami said...

I think a politician's first loyalty is to himself and no one should have any illusions about that. They are in the business of getting re-elected and the best way to do that is to represent the people who voted for you in a manner they want to be represented. Party discipline sounds nice but in practice is actually quite a horrid thing. Just ask the blue dog democrats how well that party discipline thing worked out for them. So why I may grind my teeth every time McCain goes out on one of his maverick kicks to media adulation, I have to understand that short of voting against him and convincing a lot of people to do so likewise, he's going to get re-elected.

Ideas like these aren't taught along with adequate civics and economics lessons. Hence why people fall for the Ponzi schemes that characterize most social programs and politicians' promises.

Then there's the ugly little fact that places that really enforce party discipline tend to shoot, imprison or do worse to those who go against party discipline.

Steven Crook said...

I agree with Michael. The way councilors and lawmakers should be a matter of record; voters should be able to see what their representatives are voting for or against.

Strangely, members of the British House of Commons vote publicly when it comes to making laws, but the balloting for the speakership is secret.