Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Legislature, the Arms Purchase.....

An interesting juxtaposition of articles in the Taipei Times today...

Wang Jin-pyng met with Richard Bush, the former head of AIT and longtime Taiwan analyst for various US government organizations, to discuss the arms purchase.

Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) confirmed that the arms budget stalemate is a cause of great concern for the US, and the inability to pass the arms procurement bill has caused the US to say that it does not rule out the possibility of canceling the sale of other already agreed-upon arms.

In an hour-long meeting with Wang on Thursday, former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Richard Bush focused on the legislature's delay in passing the arms procurement bill.

During the meeting, Bush was said to have asked Wang why Taiwan will not show the will to defend itself by increasing the defense budget to three percent of GDP [approx. NT$300 billion (US$8.95 billion)]. Wang replied that if the special arms budget is added to the current defense budget that it will indeed bring the amount up to at least three percent of GDP.

It is sad to see such an exchange. I'm glad I wasn't there as Richard Bush, forced to defend that dog of an arms package that offers Taiwan almost nothing useful (aircraft, guys. Can we have more fighters? Please?) and looks simply like protection money. The "3% rule" that one sees bandied about is ridiculous -- there's no evidence or argument that at 3% of GDP Taiwan will suddenly display the will to defend itself. One could argue just as cogently that wasting money on useless weapons displays just the opposite will. At the moment, the arms purchase can only benefit China, by expending precious budget resources on useless weapons, as well as whoever finally gets the contract to make the weapons.

At least someone has taken my advice and sent someone with clout and knowledge over here to send a signal to the KMT that its obstructionism is intolerable. Progress!

I suppose that Taiwan-watchers are now going to analyze everything that happens to the KMT in light of the Ma- Wang rivalry for leadership, but I can't help noting that, well, Wang's comments should be viewed in that light. Except that I don't know how they should.

At the same time that Richard Bush was at bat, pressing the Blue-dominated legislature for its uselessness, Transparency International released a survey saying the legislature is the most corrupt institution on the island.

A majority of people responding to a recent opinion poll have singled out the legislature as the most corrupt agency in the country, according to the results of a survey released by the Transparency International's Taiwan chapter.

The poll was part of a global survey released by the Berlin-based anti-graft group Transparency International (TI) on the UN's Anti-Corruption Day on Friday.

Up to 78 percent of those responding to the survey said they feel that the Legislative Yuan is most corrupt, and 69 percent said political parties are corrupt. The least corrupt institutions cited by local respondents are religious groups, non government organizations and household registration agencies. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said they believe that corruption will increase over the next three years.

Consider sarcastic remarks to be made, and move on. The final article on the legislature was one that noted that the President now faces a tougher time in confronting that august body:

The most urgent problem facing President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) following his party's thumping defeat in the Dec. 3 local elections is how to form a government that is capable of beating the deadlock in the legislature, political analysts said yesterday.

"No matter who heads the government, whether it be a coalition or a reorganized DPP government, the pan-blue alliance will still enjoy a legislative majority," political analyst Hsu Yung-ming (徐永明) said.

"There is no doubt that Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will continue the scorched-earth policy in blocking government bills. How to break through the legislative dilemma is the key," he said.

These analysts are geniuses, eh? No government formed can do a damn thing about the legislature, since it is independent of the executive. Thumping defeat or thumping victory, Chen still faces the problem of moving the legislature in the right direction as the elections were local and had little or nothing to do with making policy at the national level. They did make some changes in the legislature's make-up:

The legislature currently has 224 occupied seats, with the pan-blue coalition [the KMT and the People First Party (PFP)] holding 115 and the ruling DPP and its ally, the Taiwan Solidarity Union, taking up 100.

After the Dec. 3 polls, which saw four KMT legislators win local posts that will result in them vacating their seats, the pan-blue camp will only retain a majority of 111 out of the 220 seats.

Only one of the vacated seats meets the requirements for holding a by-election, but the pan-blues would still hold a majority even if they were to lose that seat.

Flip a couple of legislators, and suddenly WHAM! the sky's the limit. Hey, whatever happened to that DPP-PFP cooperation that had everyone up in arms a while back. Heh. It lasted 15 minutes, as I expected.

Prediction: the real test of change will not be a government reorganization, but the DPP chairmanship election. If they bring some hoary Party saint from the martial law days back to head the Party, than things may be grim. If, on the other hand, they get some bright and energetic new guy to head up the DPP, expect good news.

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