Lai case high­lights fail­ure of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion

The China Post - - COMMENTARY -

The Con­trol Yuan’s im­peach­ment of Tainan Mayor Wil­liam Lai may have done lit­tle harm to the lo­cal gov­ern­ment chief, but has again high­lighted the prob­lems fac­ing the coun­try’s high­est gov­ern­ment watchdog body.

Im­peached for his long boy­cott of the meet­ings of Tainan City Coun­cil, Lai has ques­tioned and ig­nored the im­peach­ment, con­tin­u­ing to play no-show at the lo­cal par­lia­ment.

The Con­trol Yuan, de­spite what its name may sug­gest, now has no con­trol over the fate of Lai, as the au­thor­ity for met­ing out the ac­tual pun­ish­ment fol­low­ing the im­peach­ment re­sides with the dis­ci­plinary com­mis­sion un­der the ju­di­cial branch of the gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tion.

So far, no pop­u­larly elected lo­cal gov­ern­ment chiefs have lost their jobs af­ter be­ing im­peached. And we don’t ex­pect the dis­ci­plinary com­mis­sion to have the nerve to cre­ate a po­lit­i­cal storm by mak­ing history out of Lai’s im­peach­ment.

And don’t ex­pect any im­peached of­fi­cials to vol­un­tar­ily re­sign, as many an im­peached of­fi­cial — like Lai — have tended to ques­tion the watchdog’s au­thor­ity and im­par­tial­ity.

Con­sti­tu­tion­ally, the Con­trol Yuan is the high­est gov­ern­ment body of om­buds­men; it is one of the five branches in this coun­try’s un­usual de­sign of checks and bal­ances.

It doesn’t mat­ter where the om­buds­men ex­er­cise their pow­ers, but the Con­trol Yuan lacks teeth. It is sup­posed to work in­de­pen­dently but it has of­ten found it­self em­broiled in po­lit­i­cal wran­gling.

Its re­cent history clearly shows how po­lit­i­cal bick­er­ing has hi­jacked this sup­pos­edly im­por­tant es­tate of the re­pub­lic. From 2005 to 2008, the Con­trol Yuan ceased to func­tion be­cause of the Kuom­intang law­mak­ers’ boy­cott of then­Pres­i­dent Chen Shui-bian’s nom­i­na­tions to the watchdog body.

It has func­tioned again since Ma Ying-jeou be­came pres­i­dent in 2008 — but only “par­tially.” The op­po­si­tion camp’s boy­cott of Ma’s nom­i­na­tions to the Con­trol Yuan has pre­vented more than one third of its seats from be­ing filled.

In both boy­cotts, the im­par­tial­ity and po­lit­i­cal col­ors of the nom­i­nees were called into ques­tion.

We don’t in­tend to pass judg­ment on those nom­i­nees, but we want to show that amid all the po­lit­i­cal bick­er­ing, the high­est watchdog body has been de­nied the moral high ground that is nec­es­sary for it to be trusted and re­spected, and for it to re­ally func­tion and show its teeth.

And in the latest im­peach­ment row, it is the Tainan mayor who has claimed the moral high ground — though it is de­bat­able whether he de­serves it.

He has been re­fus­ing to show up at city coun­cil meet­ings since be­ing re-elected last Novem­ber in a boy­cott against what he calls the coun­cil’s cor­rupt lead­er­ship.

Lai may have made mis­cal­cu­la­tions when as­sum­ing that Lee Chuan-chiao — who has been in­dicted for al­legedly buy­ing his way to the coun­cil speak­er­ship — would soon be found guilty and re­moved from of­fice. The le­gal pro­ceed­ings have been tak­ing much longer than Lai had thought.

But the mayor has been adamant about the im­pec­ca­bil­ity of the moral state­ment be­hind his boy­cott, de­spite all the “im­peach­able” moves he has taken and his dis­re­spect for the demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tion.

And he has no plans to back down by bow­ing to the Con­trol Yuan’s im­peach­ment, as­sum­ing — prob­a­bly cor­rectly — that the ju­di­cial dis­ci­plinary com­mis­sion will not dare ex­pel him from the may­oral of­fice.

Tainan City Coun­cil has passed a res­o­lu­tion ask­ing the com­mis­sion to sus­pend Lai for six months and name a tem­po­rary fill-in to en­able its re­view of the city gov­ern­ment’s bud­get bill.

But even such a res­o­lu­tion seems to lack le­git­i­macy. How can you trust — one might ar­gue — or count on a par­lia­ment whose speaker has been ac­cused of hav­ing bribed some of his fel­low coun­cilors?

We have an in­sti­tu­tion of checks and bal­ances, but it seems to ex­ist only nom­i­nally in a po­lit­i­cal cli­mate plagued by a di­vide along ide­o­log­i­cal lines, con­stant power strug­gles be­tween ri­val camps, ram­pant cor­rup­tion at all lev­els and deep dis­trust of the im­par­tial­ity of the ju­di­cial body.

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