Lai case highlights failure of democratic institution
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.