Saturday, November 25, 2006

Third Recall Fails; PFP to go after Premier?

The third attempt by the KMT and PFP to recall Chen failed yesterday, as WaPo reports.

President Chen Shui-bian easily survived an impeachment vote in Taiwan's legislature Friday despite his wife's indictment on embezzlement charges and a prosecutor's statement that Chen could be indicted as well if he did not have presidential immunity.

The vote signaled that Chen, a combative champion of Taiwanese independence, is likely to remain in office until the end of his second four-year term in 2008 unless new irregularities are brought to light or new charges are filed.

I'd cheer, but the result was foregone, and the recall has accomplished its twin goals of continuing to focus the legislative agenda on trivialities instead of on passing legislation the island desperately needs, and on embarrassing the President in the run-up to the Dec 9 Mayoral elections in Taipei and Kaohsiung. In both places the KMT candidates are showing decided leads over their DPP counterparts. Why the TSU is in those elections is beyond me.

The Washington Post article noted:

Chen, in a televised speech two days later, argued that the money in question was used for "secret diplomatic work," suggesting it went to pay off foreign leaders and lobbyists to further Taiwan's quest for diplomatic recognition. The rules governing receipts for such expenditures are complicated and unclear, he maintained, and at no time did he divert money for his own use. He said he would resign only if his wife was convicted.

Chen did not explain how his wife came to be involved in gathering receipts for such expenditures. The two have worked closely together since they married in 1975 and struggled side by side during the 1980s for native Taiwanese rights during martial law under the Nationalist Party government.

Ma Yingjeou, the Nationalist leader and the party's putative candidate for president in 2008, has reaped political benefits from the uproar for the past six months. But over the last 10 days, Ma, who is mayor of Taipei, has himself been accused of misusing official funds and has been interrogated by prosecutors. While Ma has denied the allegations, he acknowledged that a clerk in his office forged receipts to claim expenses.

"Chen did not explain...." Actually Chen explained very clearly; the Post reporter didn't listen. Chen used his family receipts because changes to the accounting rules in 2002 required him to submit receipts for money spent. Since his family's receipts were the only ones he had access to, naturally, he used those. Submission of fake receipts for money spent in good faith is the norm in Taiwan.

This article is pretty good, giving some background on the First Lady and the President that is helpful to understanding who and what they are. Kudos for that. Unfortunately that last sentence is a disservice to Mayor Ma. Proper contextualization would require noting that the official who handled the receipts had substituted fake ones for real ones which still existed -- in other words, no money had been embezzled that way. Note that the article is silent on the far more dangerous fact that Ma had downloaded official money into his own account -- probably because to explain how that had come about would require a very long and involved article. Too bad. Chen's position - and Ma's -- becomes much more understandable once the reader realizes that 6,500 officials here have slush funds from the government, half of which they can place in their own personal accounts and not provide receipts for.

The Taipei Times reported that the PFP has reverted to its next plan of bringing down the Premier.

Following the recall vote, PFP spokesman Lee Hung-chun (李鴻鈞) told a press conference that the PFP caucus would propose a measure to topple the Cabinet because the Cabinet cannot function well, given that it has been defending the president, who was "embroiled in corruption scandals."

Lee also criticized the KMT caucus for spending too much time in dealing with KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) mayoral special allowance case and "forgetting the recall motion." He urged the KMT caucus to join the PFP in pushing a no-confidence proposal.

The PFP's plan, which has been under discussion since the summer, is to bring down the premier since the president cannot be recalled with the current legislature. The president will dissolve the legislature once the premier has been recalled, meaning new legislative elections. Once the new legislature is in place, the PFP will then....recall the president.

The problems Constitutional and political are manifold. The legislature is being shrunk under the reforms, and new legislative districts have not been voted on by the legislature, one of the many pressing items the legislature has neglected in order to perform the important work of recalling Chen. If the legislature is dissolved, it can't vote on the new districts, and new elections cannot be held. Result: no government anywhere on the island. However, officials have commented that districting is largely a political issue that can be solved with some appropriate winking at the laws and dickering among the parties, in the event that President Chen actually chooses to dismiss the legislature if the premier is recalled.

The second issue is that the new legislature is half the size of the old one, meaning that half the legislature is going to lose its seats. The conventional wisdom is that the small parties will quickly die a horrible death, leaving the legislature divided between the DPP and the KMT. Since nobody is anxious to lose a lucrative seat, it is likely that nothing will come of the PFP's proposal. Still, the fact that they can argue for something so clearly insane shows you just how little the Blues actually care for the Beautiful Island.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Michael.

About the elections. I think Taipei was never going to be a real contest, so put that aside for a while. As to Kaohsiung, the recall motion wouldn't have really affected that. The DPP made its bed when it refused to take action against Chen. Whether that was the right or wrong decision, he is unpopular. If you back an unpopular leader you have to accept your own popularity decreasing.

Also, after six years of DPP rule the electorate may simply be experiencing "fatigue" and want a change. As much as you dislike the KMT that doesn't make you completely right. Democracy is about people making good and bad choices - the US is hardly a shining beacon of prudent choices by the electorate.

If the Taiwanese public makes a good choice at the ballot boxes next month, they will benefit. If they make bad choices, they will have to learn from them.

I will say one thing. The DPP getting a drubbing next month and even losing the presidency in 2008 may be good in the long-run. After all Taiwanese democracy can never flourish if the DPP becomes like the LDP in Japan. And I doubt that 4-8 years with the KMT in power will mean Taiwan gets inevitably sucked into China. If anything it might mean China realises that it has to make big concessions, regardless of who is in power in Taipei. It will also give the DPP a chance to re-think their attitude and come up with a sounder platform of politics, ditching rhetoric over independence or whatever. Holding on to Kaohsiung might trick them into thinking they don't need to change. But they do. Total humiliation might be the only way to wake them up. If they do, they might do better in 2007 and 2008.

Michael Turton said...


I agree that Taipei was never going to be a real contest. But holding onto Kaohsiung would be great.

Democracy is about choicemaking, but in most cases in established democracies, the consequences of a bad choice don't include the end of the nation and its annexation to a foreign power.

The DPP getting a drubbing will not be good in either the short or long run. The KMT is cooperating with China. People in Taiwan don't vote platforms; they vote for people, and they vote along identity lines. Thus your idea of reconfiguring "the platform" is erroneous (what is the DPP platform?). I agree that the DPP needs to change, but suspect we disagree profoundly on the nature of that change. I want them to start by arresting the entire Blue leadership for crimes against humanity in the martial law period, for example. I'd like a more militant, take-no-prisoners DPP, one that didn't change its mind all the time on policy. But it's their country, and they know what it takes to get elected.

I think your analysis might make sense in another country that wasn't being pressed into annexation to a foreign power. The DPP simply has to win, each and every time, because the KMT wants to destroy an independent Taiwan, and is working with China.


Anonymous said...

The KMT is more like the LDP than the DPP. The LDP has ruled Japan uninterrupted since 1955, with the exception of a brief period in the early-mid 90's (plus some occasions where it had to share power). The KMT, as we all know, was in power up until 2000. The difference is that the LDP was returned to power in democratic elections, whereas the KMT still seems to have a problem with the concept of democracy.

Anonymous said...

"It will also give the DPP a chance to re-think their attitude and come up with a sounder platform of politics, ditching rhetoric over independence or whatever."
Is discussion or even outright support of independence really 'rhetoric'?? Once again, why is it that the DPP gets labeled as antagonists because they think independence is an option in the same way others think unification is an option? As we all know, in reality Taiwan already is independent - it's just that the international community is not able formally recognize this due to coersion. I'm not necessarily a DPP fan but where do people get off branding the DPP as trouble makers for insisting indepence is an option while the KMT is branded as totally rational for saying that unification is the only option??

Anonymous said...

anonymous, I never called the DPP troublemakers. But the Taiwanese public does not respond well to "we need independence now" calls. They don't want a war with China, nor do they see how Taiwan can make any meaningful progression towards formalisation of independence without doing so. So it is a waste of time to harp on about independence when really there isn't much Taiwan can do to change things. Taiwan is already effectively independent, so why go on about it? People want to hear solutions to Taiwan's problems and challenges - that's how you win elections.

By the way, Michael, I wrote another post last night you didn't authorise. Can you please check for it. If you deleted by accident please be a little more careful next time - thanks.

Michael Turton said...

Sorry Raj, but sometimes Yahoo trashes comments as spam and then they get flushed when Yahoo dumps the trash before I see it.


Michael Turton said...

People want to hear solutions to Taiwan's problems and challenges - that's how you win elections.

You're thinking like a westerner. I want you to demonstrate with concrete reference to particular elections, that people vote on policy.