A few days ago I commented on another brawl that had broken out in Taiwan’s legislature, this time over the makeup of the country’s Central Election Committee, and also noted that past legislative tactics have included not just brawls but the throwing of various things, and on at least one occasion the eating of a bill that the eater strongly opposed. After that post, I heard from scholar Michael Turton, at Chaoyang University in western Taiwan, who knows a hell of a lot more about the country’s legislature than I do, and had a couple of points to make.
First, I had suggested that the CEC was not the most important thing to be brawling about, but Mr. Turton pointed out that Taiwan is still emerging from a time of authoritarian rule, and that the CEC is extremely important as the country’s guarantor of fair elections. So, point taken—especially given how our last few elections have gone (didn’t someone offer to send international observers to Florida in 2000?), I should not have called this unimportant.
Second, though, I told him we might have to agree to disagree about whether bill-eating is a good legislative strategy, but in the interest of fairness I will just post his comments on that particular issue, and let readers decide:
Take the bill eating exercise. The DPP legislator stopped a critically dangerous piece of legislation by that simple act. In Taiwan there are five branches of government, and the opposition parties, working in concert with China, have paralyzed several of them, either by refusing to provide budgets, or by refusing to approve nominees (one of the narratives of the pro-China side is that Taiwan cannot govern itself). The opposition maintains a thin majority in the legislature, which is overly powerful in Taiwan’s unbalanced constitutional system.
Previously Taiwan’s bizarre governmental arrangements didn’t matter, since the government was merely the exoskeleton of a one party state run by the Chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), who sent down orders through the Party hierarchy. Previous Presidents derived their authority from their position as Chairman, not because they have any under the Constitution, which was never meant to actually function. Hence, the Presidency is too weak, while the legislature is too powerful. The eaten bill would have stripped the Presidency of most of its remaining powers over foreign policy—opening the way for the legislature to conduct its own foreign policy—a pro-China one—while paralyzing another branch of government.
By eating the bill, which there was no way to stop legislatively, that woman put a stop to a major effort to undermine governance on the island. Simple, effective, and brilliant.
Assuming, of course, they didn’t have another copy.