DPP must do more to rein in the president By Chiu Hei-yuan (瞿海源)

Sunday, Jan 10, 2010, Page 8

‘People have the impression that China could lead this horse away at will.’

Throughout last year, nothing went smoothly in Taiwan: not politics, not the economy, not cross-strait relations. And then there was a natural disaster and social problems.

The public is depressed. To blame is the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), which, like an unbridled, dim-witted horse, pulls the nation around aimlessly. This places the country in an extremely dangerous position.

Under a normal democratic system, the executive branch must be checked and balanced by the legislature and the judiciary. These two branches should pull on the executive’s reins.

However, these checks and balances have all but disappeared. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has an overwhelming dominance in the legislature and Ma has broken a promise by taking over the party’s chairmanship. This has given him direct control over the legislature, while the judiciary is directing its energies toward the case against former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

During the ongoing US beef debacle, however, the Ma administration’s less-than-intelligent decision-making angered the majority of voters, forcing KMT legislators to wield the whip and join the opposition in legislating against the importation of new categories of US beef.

In spite of this, the dull horse remains the unrestrained master.

A strong opposition is the crucial democratic force to restrain the ruling party. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), however, is extremely weak in the legislature and has not been the counterbalancing force that an opposition party must be.

Although the DPP diligently waved the whip last year, it mostly whipped into empty air. It did not even get close to the horse.

The government dug its own hole and landed itself in dire straits with its response to Typhoon Morakot and the decision to import more types of US beef. This returned some power to the DPP to put some constraints on the government. Although the number of votes cast for the DPP increased in the latest election, it still does not have enough seats to match the KMT.

It was public anger over Typhoon Morakot and the tussle over US beef imports that suddenly reined in the government. The government tried to break free, but the reins were strong, and the government had to give in.

The next time a typhoon is about to hit Taiwan, every level of government will be very nervous, while through the Consumers’ Foundation, public concern over US beef will give the legislature some force to restrain the government.

What is most worrying is that China seems to have put strong reins on the horse, which is behaving as if it wants the reins. People have the impression that China could lead this horse away at will.

A mustang that breaks free and goes on a rampage is dangerous, but a dull-witted horse that breaks free will make a mess of everything. As the new year begins, the DPP must do what it can to rein in that old horse.

Chiu Hei-yuan is a research fellow at the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica.

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