Sunday, May 19, 2024

Legislature erupts in chaos, the KMT still sucks, and the spark of fresh resistance

Lawmaker and activist Puma Shen gets pushed off a rostrum head-first by KMT opponents

First, I just want to acknowledge that I haven't been blogging very much. I know. I've had other writing projects, but beyond that work is both a challenge and a treadmill. By that I mean it both requires creative energy (fantastic) but also feels a bit insurmountable (not fantastic). At least I'm happy with where I am career-wise, which I wouldn't have said six months ago. 

I felt a bit knocked out of my blogging stupor on Friday, when a fight broke out in the Legislative Yuan over a proposed bill to expand the powers of said legislature. Not only is the bill deeply undemocratic, but the method by which the majority coalition -- they wouldn't call themselves a coalition, but they effectively are one -- attempted to pass it. 

The sum of it: the KMT, with the TPP as their lapdogs, are trying to pass a bill that would require the president to give an address before the Legislature every year, and be subject to immediate questioning after. More chillingly, it would expand the legislature's ability to conduct investigations -- they already have some authority, such as access to documents -- and introduce the concept of "contempt of the Legislature" which would work like this 

Those who refuse a demand by the Legislature or delay in responding, conceal information, or provide false statements to the Legislature during an investigation, inquiry, or hearing or when it reviews documents can be fined or, if serious, seen as "contempt of the legislature," according to the KMT lawmakers' bill. 

This would be a criminal offense, and refusing to appear or accused of lying to the Legislature would be punishable by fines or jail time. Those required to comply would not only be government entities, but private ones as well. 

The issues, legal scholars and others note, is that it's not clear where that power begins and ends. For example

Lin Chih-chieh (林志潔), a legal professor and a DPP legislative candidate in the January election, warned at a public hearing that if the bills passed, the Legislative Yuan would be able to demand the presence of, for example, TSMC founder Morris Chang (張忠謀) and accuse him of contempt of the Legislature if he refused to attend.

The Legislature could also ask TSMC or other enterprises to provide sensitive information related to their commercial secrets, Lin argued.

(I'm quoting at length from Focus Taiwan as their articles don't remain publicly available for long.)

What's more, what constitutes "lying", "delay in responding" or "concealing information" is not particularly clear. How it will be determined that someone called to testify has done these things is not, as far as I know, defined in any known way. The problem here should be obvious: with no clear, impartial mechanism to determine what constitutes a delay, a lie or concealment, who's to say what might be called, for example, a "lie".  Anyone can insist anyone testifying has "lied", threatening criminal punishment, and it's extremely unclear how that power might be wielded fairly. 

People whose testimony (or lack thereof) dissatisfies legislators -- again, this whole thing should chill you to the bone -- can be sent to court 'to impose a sentence' (it's unclear whether the court can overturn the legislators' decision). In other words

Furthermore, how contempt of the Legislature is determined, by whom, and the criminal elements of contempt of the Legislature are not explicitly stated in the KMT proposal. Critics believe that if the legislator does not like the content of the official's answer to the question, does not like their attitude, or "interrupts" the official who is answering the legislator's question...under a loose determination, it may be possible that legislators will use their own subjective desires to imprison the official under questioning through court resolutions.
(Translated from Initium Media)

Does this remind you of any other period in Taiwan's history? Perhaps a period of several decades, under which the government could pull you in for questioning and jail you if they didn't like your answers, using ill-defined powers with essentially no oversight? 

I don't think that the Legislative Yuan is going to start mass murdering dissenters or anything like that, but if this doesn't give you Big White Terror should.

This lack of clarity seems very much by design: the bill bypassed a line-by-line reading as well as an article-by-article discussion, and according to Initium Media, all versions of the bill from the KMT and TPP were sent to committee while all DPP versions and proposals were blocked. Laws in Taiwan have a period of discussion (sometimes called 'freezing') where parties are meant to negotiate and come to a consensus on new legislation, which is between one and four months -- four months is the norm, but the 'freezing' of some crucial legislation may be shorter. In that period, the KMT refused to engage in any substantive negotiation or discussion with the DPP on this bill.

Because there was no line-by-line reading, and all versions were sent to committee (if I'm reading this correctly), it's unclear which version would have passed the vote on Friday. Not all versions are available publicly, in fact, I'm not even sure if the legislators themselves know what's in the bill. This is very wrong: in general, new legislation under consideration should be publicly available, discussed in detail by lawmakers, and the final version that goes to a vote known. 

It's also worrying that how the bill would play out against previous Constitutional Court rulings, specifically ruling #585, which states that the Legislative Yuan has the power to conduct investigations related to its own functioning but not beyond that: 

Under the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, the scope of the targets or matters subject to the Legislative Yuan’s investigative power does not grow unchecked. The matters to be investigated by the Legislative Yuan must be substantially related to the exercise of its powers under the Constitution. And, in addition, whenever a matter is related to the independent exercise of powers by an organ of the State that is guaranteed by the Constitution, the Legislative Yuan may not extend its investigative power to such a matter.

This interpretation already gives the Legislative Yuan the power to 'compel' testimony on matters under its jurisdiction, but it's unclear if attaching criminal penalties to this would be within the scope of the interpretation. In addition, unlike other countries that have contempt of Congress or Parliament laws, Taiwan already has an investigative body, the Control Yuan.

This body is in charge of impeachment, censure and audit. If they already have the power to investigate government officials, why exactly does the Legislative Yuan also need this power? Indeed, according to Interpretation #585 above, to take that power might well interfere with the "independent exercise" of the Control Yuan, making it unconstitutional. 

Of course, we don't know exactly which powers this will grand the Legislature and whether they step on the Control Yuan's toes, because we don't know what's in the bill! Even the Taipei Bar Association has weighed in with concerns about the bill. It's Bad News Bears, you guys, 

It's pretty clear that the goal of the legislators is to increase their own power during a term when the KMT has a legislative plurality, but the DPP has the presidency. It's not about punishing those who lie -- KMT legislators lie all the time -- and not really about filling a much-needed gap in the government's ability to function, as there's an investigative body that already does this. In other words, it's exactly what critics have called it: a power grab.

If this seems reminiscent to you of some of the black box politics characteristic of the Ma Ying-jeou era, that's because it is. The same sort of 'let's push this through and not make it entirely clear what the legislation entails' is the exact sort of authoritarian bullshit attitude that helped spark the Sunflower Movement in 2014. While the details differ, broadly speaking, the strategy feels quite similar to the attempted passage of the Cross-Strait Services and Trade Agreement (CSSTA or 服貿) in that year. 

With the KMT more or less back in power in the Legislative Yuan, it's not surprising that they are exactly who they've always been. 

Friday was voting day for the bill, and anyone could have predicted that fights over it would break out in the Legislature. Again according to Initium Media, the clause requiring the president to address the Legislative Yuan and then answer questions (which is somewhat unprecedented in ROC history) was passed by a show of hands -- meaning the names of those voting for and against were not recorded as is custom -- but due to the physical altercations, all other parts of the bill have yet to be dealt with. 

I'm not sure exactly why, but the violence in the Legislative Yuan on Friday somehow seemed more serious, or touched a deeper nerve, than scuffles I've read about previously. To me, the three most notable instances of scuffles or outright violence were DPP Legislator Kuo Kuo-wen (郭國文) grabbing the documents and sprinting out of the legislative chamber with them, which, to be clear, that guy rules.

Chung Chia-pin (鍾佳濱) of the DPP tackled the KMT's Chen Ching-hui (陳菁徽) while both were on the podium; Chung claims he slipped on a piece of paper, and from the video evidence, that seems likely. Notably, in some reports, pan-blue mouthpiece TVBS, despite offering a pretty awesome metal-lite background to the footage, seems to have edited out the part where Chung fell. 

Finally, DPP Legislator, democracy activist and founder of Doublethink Lab Puma Shen (沈伯洋) was  pushed off the rostrum and landed on his head. Shen was hospitalized along with five other lawmakers, though his condition at the time appeared to be the most severe. 

As of today, Shen appears to be in recovery -- or at least, he's conscious -- telling the public that the TPP's three-point statement on the issue is, essentially, three lies, and that they are the ones in "contempt of the Legislature". 

According to CNA, the TPP claims that only some reforms were on the agenda for that day, and the "contempt of the Legislature" was not. I'm honestly unclear on this point, but Shen claims it's wrong. Second, the TPP claims that the DPP either "didn't understand" the timing of the discussions, or put forward excessive motions to adjourn so no discussions could take place. Shen counters that in truth, the DPP called for adjournments because the KMT and TPP wouldn't discuss the bill, and accuses them of confiscating or dismissing DPP proposals, so what could the DPP do but resist the process? Finally, the TPP claimed that the 'show of hands' method of voting is a legal and recognized method. Shen points out that the vote counts are still unclear as a result -- some of them don't match up -- and as the tools to register names of who voted for what were available, intentionally not using them is not a good method. 

For anyone thinking "well that's just majority party strategy", the DPP as far as I can remember never did this to the KMT in eight years of having control.

In the aftermath, the DPP's Chung has apologized to Chen (the woman who was tackled), and clarified that he was also in pain from the fall. The KMT, as far as I can tell, has not apologized for injuring Shen or anyone else, with caucus whip Fu Kun-chi daring the DPP to sue the KMT over their actions

Not to get too biased or anything, but that corrupt sex pest really is a massive wet sack of steamy garbage juice.

Fu has also called the DPP "thuggish", despite arguably the worst injury being sustained by a DPP legislator. That's to be expected, though, the KMT loves characterizing the DPP as ignorant rednecks who could not possibly wield power with the grace and authority of the educated KMT. It's a also a time-honored tactic around the world used to discredit activist movements. Want to turn the public against a group? Call them thugs!

Of course, the DPP weren't the ones who terrorized Taiwan for decades under the White Terror and Martial Law dictatorship like thugs.

Anyway, calling anyone "thuggish" is pretty rich coming from, yet again, a corrupt sex pest

Speaking of the old dictatorship, the KMT also accused the DPP of being "used to monopolizing power". Hmm, let's review: which party imposed decades of Martial Law so heinous that it made the Japanese colonial era look like a paradise in comparison? Sent dissidents to Green Island, tortured them and killed them, claiming they were all "communists" (not all were, and regardless it shouldn't have been a crime in the first place)? Engaged in mass killing sprees after 228? Let the dictator's son run the secret police, deciding more or less on personal whims who lived and who died? 

Which party ruled Taiwan with violence for so long, and so horribly, that the people started organizing to force it to end? Which party's crimes against the people are now memorialized in prisons-turned-museums on Green Island and in New Taipei? Was that the DPP?

Which party, out of approximately thirty years of democratization, has held a majority in the Legislature for twenty of them (so, about two-thirds), even when the opposition had the presidency? Was that the DPP? Which party engaged in legislative chicanery so preposterous that a bunch of students occupied thei chamber and rallied many, if not most, Taiwanese to their cause? Which party's president is leaving office with unprecedented popularity, as opposed to her KMT predecessor who wishes he could have hit double digits?

So, which party again can we perhaps accuse of trying to monopolize power? Because it sure as hell doesn't look like the DPP.

With the inauguration tomorrow and fresh deliberations over the bill set for the day after, it's unclear what's next. I have noticed, though, that with the old KMT tactics of black-boxing their trash and calling the DPP "thuggish" for resisting, that perhaps a spark of that old civil disobedience is coming back. 

It's not that protests simply stopped after Tsai took office. There's been a Panay Kusui-led protest encampment in 228 Park for a very long time, focused on Indigenous land rights. There's a laor protest more or less every year, though they don't have much staying power. There were the marriage equality rallies. 

But it sure does feel like civil society has gone somewhat quiet in these years. I don't think I've attended a protest/rally since marriage equality (though, to be clear, my health took a tumble during the pandemic as my career picked up, so often I just haven't got the time). Many have commented that younger Taiwanese, now almost a generation removed from the Wild Strawberries and Sunflowers, and two generations from the Wild Lilies, don't seem to have that same activist spirit, aren't worried about China (and thus care less about the KMT's foreign policy of basically selling out Taiwan) or aren't the angry young protesters who helped bring Tsai to power in 2016 -- in fact, they're not necessarily enamored with the DPP at all

On the one hand, I've kind of noticed this, too. The desire to go out there and fight for something better hasn't seemed as alive of late. Perhaps it's because President Tsai, unlike her predecessor, actually did a good job leading Taiwan -- and I do think, with some criticisms and imperfections, that she did. Perhaps they're just used to the DPP being 'in power', and the people with the power are usually not the ones that inspire the youth. 

But now KMT avarice is laid bare once again, which was always going to happen once they were given national-level power again. I'm not sure why so many people didn't see it coming, and while it's certainly not a good thing, maybe the old fire will come back. Maybe the next generation will see once again what utter rapacious dipshits their parents voted for, and stand for something better. 

Spontaneous protests broke out outside the Legislative Yuan on Friday night, and on Saturday Internet celebrity and commentator Four-Pronged Cat (四叉貓), known for infiltrating and subverting KMT protests, held a "pilgrimage" to the street below the home of KMT legislator Hsu Chiao-hsin (徐巧芯). She's the one who pulled out a musical instrument during the fighting and played the ROC national anthem -- honestly, don't ask. Apparently, people passing Hsu's house deemed to be protesters had been interrogated or otherwise documented by police, which frankly feels quite undemocratic. For a small-scale action, it's still impressive that, apparently, hundreds of people showed up. 

These are small numbers by the Taiwan protest standards I'm used to, but it feels like a step in the right direction as we head into the unknown territory of a third-term DPP presidency, and a KMT-led legislature that seems more cupidinous than ever. We're going to need that vim and vigor from everyone, not just Gen Z Taiwanese, to do something about it.

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