Ever wonder what it's gonna be like for KMT members the morning AFTER the vote's been held to impeach President Chen? I mean, they've just spent an entire month in an anti-Chen delirium. Marching. Yelling. Encouraging their kids to throw eggs at Chen posters. Boy, it sure felt good.
But like all good things, it had to come to an end sometime. Chen's party looked at the charges, and saw nine out of ten were political in nature. As for the remaining charge, corruption, there was no firm evidence that Chen was personally involved. Chen's party held their ranks, and the KMT failed to get the two thirds vote necessary to remove him from office.
So now, after one incredible, dizzying month, comes the hangover. The consolation prize - toppling the cabinet - must look about as appealing as a bowlful of cold porridge. And like most hangovers, the most dominant feeling will be the one of regret.
The Chen haters will regret that they couldn't bring down the president despite his low poll numbers. How could he survive? Didn't the polls say he had only a 5.8% approval rating?
That, they did. 'Cept the polls ALSO said the KMT would win the 2004 presidential election. Doncha hate it when life throws ya curve balls like that?
Personally, I can't summon up much sympathy for the Chen haters, the guys who just a few months ago sought his removal for abolishing a defunct council which for the last seven years has had no meetings, no budget, and no members. No, my sympathy's for the other guys, the guys in the party who hate graft, and truly believe that Chen's guilty as sin.
Don't laugh about the "hating graft" part. Not every KMT member's corrupt. Sure, you can call them hypocritical, if you like. After all, the KMT has a LOT of ill-gotten assets. But if your old man left you a massive inheritance, how quickly would YOU give it all back if you learned that he had stolen most of it a long, long time ago?
Those are the guys right now who're slapping their heads and muttering, "We shoulda listened to Ma!" (That would be Chairman Ma of the KMT: Ma Ying-jeou.) You see, Ma's first instinct was the right one: Let's wait until we have hard evidence that Chen himself is corrupt, THEN let's move on to impeachment. If the KMT had waited and gotten that evidence, then Chen's party would have deserted him. They would have deserted him, or they'd have been thrown out of office in the next election. No one's going to risk their job defending a crook.
That approach would have required patience, however. Instead, the KMT listened to the counsel of fanatics like James Soong, who insisted on striking while the iron was hot. We've always hated Chen and everything he stands for, said Soong, but now the public has turned against him as well. The man's got a 5.8% approval rating, for cryin' out loud!
Evidence? We don't need no stinkin' evidence!
At that point, someone should've cleared his throat and announced that all of this was well and good, but why should Soong's advice be preferred over Ma's? When you think about it, Soong has lost not one, but TWO presidential elections to Chen, in 2000 and in 2004. Ma, on the other hand, actually BEAT Chen in a mayoral campaign back in 1996. Who on earth would take strategy lessons from a two-time loser instead of a proven winner?
The KMT, that's who. Meanwhile Chairman Ma, sensing an immanent party revolt, switched positions. It was a terrible move for the country, but a terrific move for himself.*
Suppose for a moment, just for a moment, that Chen really IS guilty. My gut feeling is that he's just being railroaded by some pretty unpleasant people, but I confess to having a few doubts. Why did he say that his wife never directly received vouchers from the SOGO department store [as a bribe]? Was it Clintonesque parsing, or just an innocent slip of the tongue? The China Post naturally assumes the former, and for all I know, they may be right. But I would defy ANYONE to give a two hour long speech like the one he gave without making a few mistakes. Heck, I can't talk for two MINUTES without some kind of flub.
(Just the other day, I met a group of Taiwanese acquaintances, including one by the name of "Joy." Now, all of us know another woman with the same name, so I asked them if they'd seen the OTHER "Joy" around. "You know," I said, "the THIN one.")
(Whoops. That's not the way it was supposed to come out!)
Anyways, suppose Chen's really guilty, but no one knows that for sure because the KMT was too lazy to do the hard work of proving it. As I said earlier, his party isn't convinced of his guilt, so they stand behind him and he walks. That's bad, but something even worse can happen later.
The absolute worst part of all this is that incriminating evidence could show up next week, and that evidence would no longer matter in any legal sense. As Ma said a month ago, there's only one bullet in the chamber. There's one, and only one, chance to impeach this president. An impeachment vote against a Taiwanese president can only be made once every three years, so if this attempt fails, then no more attempts are possible. (Chen is constitutionally obligated to step down at the end of his second term in two years.) As bad as it is for the guilty to go unpunished, I regard it as much worse for the PROVABLY guilty to go unpunished. This impeachment bid, which Ma said was irresponsible but went along with anyway, now makes the latter an unfortunate possibility.
Now, let's assume something else. I've considered the possibility of Chen being guilty, so let's now consider the opposite. Suppose Chen is innocent, as I believe him to be. The impeachment bid fails, and an innocent president keeps his job. No harm done, right?
Wrong. There are opportunity costs involved in the impeachment effort, legislative roads not taken that might have been more productive. Hurricane season is upon us, and still a flood control bill languishes. An innocent president may indeed walk, but innocent Taiwanese may soon end up swimming or drowning. Their houses may be deprived of electricity, or buried entirely by suffocating mud. Those are not insignificant costs for the public to wind up paying for this little foregone conclusion.
Finally, there is one other harmful effect that could potentially happen. A month ago, a member of James Soong's People First Party suggested that the threat of a presidential impeachment was a good thing, because it gave an incentive for the president's family and associates to walk the straight and narrow. Much as I disapprove of the PFP's capitulationist policies towards China, I have to admit that I admired that legislator's thoughts on deterring corruption. Sadly however, he hadn't followed this avenue of thought to it's logical conclusion. If he had, I believe he would have come out against the impeachment vote.
Think on it: If someone trains "a gun with one bullet" on you, you have a powerful incentive to tread softly. If he fires and misses, that incentive instantly vanishes and you breathe a sigh of relief.
Likewise with the impeachment bid. Hang a legal Sword of Damocles over Chen's head, and those close to him have a powerful incentive to behave themselves. Let it fall harmlessly, and that incentive disappears. In fact, a perverse incentive has just been created. My man Chen's untouchable from now on, some folks might reason, so why shouldn't I get mine?
Thus a measure intended to punish corruption, might, paradoxically, end up encouraging it.
* I believe Ma's change of heart on the impeachment issue ends up strengthening his leadership role in the KMT. For as soon as impeachment fails, his initial circumspection will be lauded.
"If only we had listened to the wise leadership of our beloved Chairman..." moderates will sigh, as they ponder what might have been had they had waited to get the full evidence.
The hawks might say that too through gritted teeth, but they too, will find Ma more attractive now. He's just proven that he's a team player, not some kind of Achilles pouting in his tent when he doesn't get his way. Alright, so he was a little reluctant to embrace the impeachment drive, but that can be forgiven. What matters is that he put his game face on, and gave it 110%, despite his initial reservations.
At the end of the day, the entire episode leaves moderates admiring Ma.
UPDATE (June 27/06): Came home this evening, and saw a somber Ma Ying-jeou on TV saying something in Mandarin. Take it that means the impeachment failed.
The View from Taiwan confirms what we all expected. While I'm happy that Chen gets to keep his job, I'm even happier that I don't have to hit the delete button on this post.
Me, selfish? You'd better believe it!
UPDATE #2 (Jun 27/06): I originally wrote that polls gave Chen an approval rating of 20%, but later remembered that there was one poll where his numbers were a LOT lower. Sure enough, this poll gave him an approval rating of 5.8%. The number has been corrected in the post.
UPDATE (June 28/06): The English-language media here gave me the impression that impeachment could only be attempted once every three years. One of President Chen's enemies says otherwise:
Although the proposal to recall the president failed to pass, People First Party (PFP) legislators yesterday immediately drafted a motion to topple the Cabinet, with party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) saying they would push for a another recall motion after a new legislature is convened. [Emphasis added]
"As long as the Cabinet dissolution plan doesn't fail, it is certain that [a second] motion to recall the president will succeed," Soong told people before ending a sit-in outside the legislature.
I take it as a given that Soong understands the rules for presidential recalls better than I do. Still, it really looks like he's counting his chickens before they hatch. Before his little plan can come to fruition, he has to topple the cabinet, Chen has to dissolve the legislature, and Chen's enemies have to pick up 2/3rds of the seats in the new legislature.
Problem is, the KMT hasn't committed itself to that course of action yet.
Even if they do sign on and topple the cabinet, President Chen would have to be so stupid as to dissolve the legislature without taking a look at the polls first. The KMT and its allies need to hold 2/3rds of the seats for an impeachment / recall to succeed, but if Chen believes they'll pick up that many seats, there's no way he'll dissolve the legislature.
Chen will only dissolve the legislature if he thinks it'll be advantageous for him to do so. Otherwise, he simply installs a new premier and cabinet.
The Liberty Times (the Taipei Times' sister newspaper) reported yesterday that soccer fans have been unable to collect a complete set of World Cup pins from McDonald's restaurants because China has confiscated the Taiwan pins, which were made by a Chinese factory.
McDonald's restaurants in Taiwan are giving out 33 pins -- one for each of the 32 World Cup countries plus Taiwan. The Taiwan pin looks the same as the other World Cup pins but is printed with Taiwan's formal name, the Republic of China (ROC).
McDonald's hired a Chinese factory to make the pins, the first shipment of which slipped through Chinese customs, the report said. But when China realized what was printed on the pins, it confiscated them from later shipments...
You mean McDonald's only now discovered that communists don't make reliable suppliers? Maybe they should have paid attention to the travails of the Taiwanese construction industry, after Beijing announced, "No gravel for you!"
It's a pity that the communist Chinese empire can't hold together unless kids are prevented from completing their World Cup pin collection. Forget Joe Cool and the World War I ace - now everyone's favorite beagle has a new persona: Splittist Snoopy.
A few weeks ago, the China Post suggested that the KMT could spend the next two years toppling premier after premier, cabinet after cabinet. The notion that the KMT could do this repeatedly and not eventually be punished by the voters seemed absurd to me. Fooling all the people all the time, and all of that.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when the China Postran up the white flag on a cabinet non-confidence vote earlier this week:
The recall campaign was a bad play from the very beginning. Ma Ying-jeou, chairman of the Kuomintang who demanded President Chen to resign but didn't want to recall him, was forced by the hawks within the opposition party* to join in the [presidential impeachment] campaign James Soong had launched...
Then...the Kuomintang started to collect the signatures of at least eight million eligible voters who want the president to step down.
That's significant because at least 8 million voters would have to give Chen the thumbs down in a referendum for a recall to be sucessful. A formal referendum would be unnecessary were Chen to resign after being presented with a non-binding petition showing 8 million would vote for his ouster.
Although [Ma] claims seven out of every ten voters wish the president would quit, the public has responded very coolly to the collection of signatures -- less than one million signatures collected so far. [I believe the number was about half a million as of Monday - The Foreigner] The tide seems turning in President Chen's favor since Ma decided to join in the fray.
Fortunately, the bad play may come to an end with the lawmakers voting on the recall motion...Please do not go on trying to impeach the president, though he deserves a recall. Nor should a no confidence vote on Premier Su Tseng-chang be initiated, for the Cabinet may be toppled but the president will remain unscathed. Should Ma decide instead to pursue the anti-Chen drive to the end, Taiwan would see its political chaos worse confounded. [Emphasis added]
Some Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislators yesterday urged People First People (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) to abandon a plan to push for a motion to topple the Cabinet, saying that it might damage KMT Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
"Ma has been raped by Soong one time. I appeal to Soong not to rape Ma again," KMT Legislator Chang Sho-wen (張碩文) said, referring to when Ma swapped his initial hesitation regarding the [presidential] recall motion to become its supporter, because of pressure from pan-blue camp leaders.
Ma raped by Soong? Eww, tone it down, fellas. Led around the nose, maybe, but not raped.
"The Cabinet's dissolution will cause social turmoil and influence economic performance, and the KMT will be blamed for all this," [Chang] said.
Chang may be wrong about the last part. Maybe the KMT can avoid the blame - this time. Maybe they can get away with toppling one cabinet, maybe even two. But voters aren't stupid, and the KMT can't keep doing that with impunity for the next two years. So the China Post's latest position is the correct one: At the end of the day, Chen will still be standing, and the KMT is gonna look mighty impotent if it insists on imitating the gang that can't shoot straight.
The View from Taiwan has a post about the death threats that were issued over the weekend against KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou in the southern city of Gowshung. Let me go on record as saying that this is outrageous; the underground disc jockeys who made those threats should be hunted down, prosecuted, and thrown unceremoniously into a prison cell.
Which they can then share with KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou and former KMT chairman Lien Chan. Both of whom are ALSO guilty of issuing public death threats against political rivals.
The interesting thing about the latter two is that whenever they issue statements that someone should be murdered, the China Post always excuses it by claiming that the Mandarin expressions that they used can be interpreted in other, more innocuous ways.
At that point, it becomes very difficult for a non-Mandarin speaker such as myself to evaluate whether we're being given the truth or a whole lotta disingenuous spin.* Let's be honest: It's a bit ambiguous if someone uses the common English expression, "politician John Smith is going to be toast". Of course it can mean that they want to defeat Smith politically, but it can also mean something much more sinister.
Having said that though, my suspicion is that there's probably only one interpretation for a "dare-to-die assassination squad".
UPDATE (June 17/06): The news on Thursday was that Ma Ying-jeou apologized for declaring that President Chen would be "toppled" and meet with a "foul death" if he didn't resign from office. I was going to give him credit for that here, but then I noticed that he did so only after CHARGES were filed against him. In essence, Ma said, "So sorry - now go arrest somebody else."
Not sure if that really deserves much of a pat on the back.
Good question. Doesn't necessarily mean that these three shouldn't have been arrested, but it's still a good question.
A better question is what's to be done with Ma. Politically, it's impossible to arrest him. You'd have riots on your hands. President Chen would be accused of being a dictator, at home and abroad.
Arrest Ma? Some pretty serious consequences involved, there.
The alternative, however, is also unpalatable. It's patently unfair to punish three common folk while letting the chairman of the KMT get off scot-free. To do so does violence to the principle of Equality before the Law.
As I said: What to do, what to do?
UPDATE (June 20/06): The Taiwan News dismisses the statements allegedly made by the underground radio stations, claiming that they were made "tongue-in-cheek". That may be so, or it may just amount to special pleading. I honestly can't say.
But even if the threats WERE done with tongue planted in cheek, they still constitute a threat to social peace. One lone crazy took the KMT's hyperbole seriously in 2004, and managed to single-handedly cause a whole heap of trouble. An air passenger who makes a bomb threat quickly learns, "I was just joking," isn't an acceptable excuse.
UPDATE (June 24/06): One of the alleged death threats made at one of the radio stations consisted of an elderly woman calling in and calling for Taiwanese to "rise up in rebellion and raise our hoes." Sorry, but that doesn't sound much worse than Pat Buchanan's "peasants and pitchforks" comments a few years back.
Classy. Must really burn him up that that KMT assassin in '04 was such a bad shot.
UPDATE #4 (June 24/06): I've been remiss in not pointing to Maddog's post on the subject, where he provides a pretty thorough accounting of KMT threats / violence against political opponents. But get this: That laundry list doesn't start from 50 years ago, but from 2004.
UPDATE (June 28/06): Yesterday's Taiwan News had an editorial listing some of the placard slogans at an "Impeach Chen" rally:
“Execute [President] Chen Shui-bian!”
“Liquidate Chen Shui-bian!”
“Liquidate [President Chen’s wife] Wu Shu-chen!”
“Drink A-bian’s blood!” [A-bian is President Chen’s nickname]
Interestingly, yesterday's Taiwan News points out that James Soong has tended to use less violent rhetoric towards President Chen than KMT chairman Ma Ying-jeou, despite the fact that Soong has advocated more confrontational tactics than Ma.
Don't know how long that'll continue: Today's Taipei Times quotes Soong as saying, "I would like to shed my blood for Taiwan if the bloodless revolution [to remove President Chen from office] fails."
Anyway, after a long day of clack-clacking [mahjong tiles] and shots of icy beer...I read an article that had been printed off the Internet by one of my more English-savvy friends from the mahjong marathon. It was a June 3 piece called "The Perils of Threat Inflation" by one William Lind*,and brought me back to such a level of agitation that I wished I hadn't read it. I'll be honest: I was so scandalized that the three or four schoolgirls opposite me in the [subway] carriage turned off their iPods to watch and hear an old man self-combust.
What got Johnny into such a state was Lind's suggestion that China's claims on Taiwan were legitimate, and that the U.S. should butt out.
Instead of repeating Johnny's points for him, I'll just quote from Mr. Lind's column, and raise a few objections of my own:
Under its "one China" policy, the U.S. recognizes that Taiwan is part of China.
Sorry Mr. Lind, but that's not quite true. The U.S. acknowledges China's position that it has a claim to Taiwan, but it's wrong to say that it recognizes it.
In the same manner, I can acknowledge that the crazy-ass president of Iran thinks he has a right to develop nuclear weapons and wipe Israel off the map.
But I certainly don't recognize him as having any such right whatsoever.
Lind then tries to explain why poor little China will be forced against its will to put the Taiwanese in their place:
Taiwan is vastly important to China, because the great threat to China throughout its history has been internal division. If one province, Taiwan, can secure its independence, why cannot other provinces do the same? It is the spectre of internal break-up that forces China to prevent Taiwanese independence at any cost, including war with America.
Reality check here: Taiwan has NEVER been controlled by the People's Republic of China. Moreover, within the last century, Taiwan was only a part of a "Greater China" for a couple of years following World War II. That means that it's essentially been separate from Greater China for a hundred years now. And in spite of this, Communist China has miraculously managed to maintain its internal cohesiveness during its entire 50 year lifespan without collecting a single NT dollar in taxes, without imprisoning a single Taiwanese democracy advocate, and without murdering a single Falun Gong adherent.
Maybe, just maybe, it's an exaggeration then to say that Taiwanese independence is the single magical element that can bring the whole Chinese house of cards crashing down.
Next, Lind looks to history for an excuse not to get involved:
A strategic rivalry between the U.S. and China points to an obvious parallel, the strategic rivalry between England and Germany before World War I.
America needs to handle a rising China the way Britain handled a rising America, not a rising Germany.
I think the World War I analogy useful, but draw rather different conclusions from it than Mr. Lind does. To begin with, it's an error to think that World War I occurred because of some kind of "strategic rivalry". The Great War started because of German militarism, pure and simple. Donald Kagan's book, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace, outlines Britain's dilemma:
The question is, what "accommodation" could the European states have made to the German "upstart" that would have brought satisfaction to Germany and stability to Europe? What, in fact, did Germany want? At the turn of the century, Germany was the strongest military power in the world. It also had the strongest and most dynamic economy on the Continent. In 1897, without any previous naval tradition, without any new challenge from the sea to require an expensive change in policy, the Germans undertook the construction of a major battle fleet concentrated in the North Sea where it threatened British naval superiority and the only security available to Britain. The British gradually became alarmed as they came to recognize the threat Germany posed.
...their fears were well-founded. However often the Kaiser might proclaim his friendly feelings for England and Tirpitz declare that the fleet had no offensive purposes, the continued construction of big battleships concentrated in the North Sea and the acceleration of that construction justified British suspicion and fear, even without inside information about German intentions. Scholarship, of course, has now made clear that Britain really was the target of the new German Navy and that the likeliest explanation of Tirpitz's otherwise irrational naval program is that it aimed at least at equality with the British fleet; when combined with Germany's military power it would give the Germans the ability to change the status quo in its favor and to the great and dangerous disadvantage of other powers...It would be some years before the Germans could hope for parity at sea, but the British expected that even before the Germans were prepared for a confrontation at sea, they would try to use their "risk" fleet to force concessions.
(Kagan, p 206-207)
Some clue as to what these concessions might have looked like in the long run can be drawn from German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg's "September Program" for Europe, which was drawn up a month after hostilities began:
The [German] military would decide whether the French should cede Belfort, the western slopes of the Vosges, the coast from Dunkirk to Boulogne, and destroy their forts on the German frontier...Germany would acquire the iron mines of Briey. A preferential trade treaty would make France "our export land," and the French would be required to pay an indemnity that would make it impossible for them to manufacture armaments for at least twenty years. Belgium would lose Liege, Verviers, and probably Antwerp, and would become a vassal state, accepting German garrisons in its ports...Holland would be ostensibly independent, "but essentially subject to us." Luxembourg would be directly incorporated into the German empire. Apart from these territorial provisions, but by no means less important, was the plan for establishing "an economic organization of Mitteleuropa through mutual customs agreements...including France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria, Poland, and perhaps Italy, Sweden, and Norway" that would guarantee German economic domination of Europe.
(Kagan, p 208)
Looking at this laundry list, it may be difficult for the modern reader to imagine that most Germans considered Bethmann Hollweg's demands to be too...moderate. Germans - left, right, and center - wanted more. Of this, Kagan writes:
A "Petition of Intellectuals" published in July 1915 was signed by a great number of theologians, teachers, artists, writers, and some 352 university professors; it demanded a program of annexations that went far beyond the September Program. At the same time...the leader of the Catholic Center party, Matthias Erzberger, was demanding the annexation of Belgium, parts of France, and the entire Congo, the conversion of the Baltic states and Ukraine into German dependencies, and the imposition of a reparation bill that would more than pay off the entire German national debt.
(Kagan, p 209)
In short, if one truly believes that China is some kind of Wilhelmine Germany analog, then one ought to be prepared to receive from China a set of territorial demands and economic concessions far in excess of little old Taiwan. Exactly then, how many OTHER countries are we prepared to sell down the river?
Finally, Lind raises the specter of a nuclear confrontation, which ultimately gets back to the familiar question about whether America is willing to sacrifice Los Angeles for Taipei. A Chinese general asked that a few years back, and Taiwanese (or are they Chinese?) commenters on Taiwan-related blogs ask it as well.
I confess I get a bit confused when I hear the question. You see, China claims that the world has absolutely nothing to fear from it; that it's peacefully rising. It swears this, up and down, to any and all.
I wonder then, will all that peaceful rising occur before or AFTER they nuke L.A.?**
Putting that aside, Mr. Lind should try to remember that the Cold War wasn't won by wetting our pants over the possibility of exchanging D.C. for Paris. It was won by facing the communists down, and by betting that they were rational actors who weren't prepared to to lose THEIR cities in an unjustified war of aggression.
Is America willing to sacrifice Los Angeles for Taipei? My response is to turn that question, which is asked purely in an effort to demoralize, upon its head. What we really should ask is whether it is the Chinese who are willing to sacrifice Beijing for Banchiao***, or Shanghai for ShiminDing****?
If China is tempted to answer that irrationally enough, it may one day find itself boasting of its five thousand year history...while looking forward to nothing more than a fifteen minute future.
What the president of the Institute seems to have forgotten is that von Mises was no anarchist - he was a classical liberal. Classical liberals advocate the "night-watchman state" - one which limits itself to protecting life, liberty and property.
That doesn't make them friends of modern big government, but it hardly makes them "anti-state", either.
** The paradox suggests that the Chinese are lying. But about what? About their peaceful rising? Their willingness to start lobbing nukes around in order to conquer Taiwan?
UPDATE (Jun 27/06): Are the Chinese willing to sacrifice Beijing for Banchiao? Some speculation here that the Taiwanese might have a few nukes of their own. Not sure how seriously this should be taken.
I've heard about filibusters. Filibusters, I've heard about.
I've also heard about sick legislators being wheeled into chambers to vote from ambulance gurneys. And legislators holding the elevator to prevent rival party members from reaching the floor for critical votes.
In a melee on the floor of the nation's highest legislative organ, a DPP lady lawmaker tried to eat a written cloture motion to put [a] bill to a vote.
Wang Shu-hui snatched the paper from her People First Party colleague Ko Shu-min, who was going to the chair to present it to Wang Jin-pyng, Legislative Yuan president, in the first free-for-all of the day.
In the hustle that followed, Wang Shu-hui popped the paper into her mouth to prevent PFP lawmakers, who rushed to help their lady colleague, from recovering it.
Wang later spat out the document and tore it up after opposition lawmakers failed to get her to cough it up by pulling her hair.
Part of me says give Ms. Wang ten out of ten for creativity, while the other part says that this is a pretty bad thing, because democracy itself depends upon a certain elementary level of civility.
The reason for the contention was that the KMT / PFP was attempting to establish direct transportation links between Taiwan and China. Direct links aren't possible at present because the Communist Party of China refuses to directly negotiate with the Taiwanese government, so the KMT rather obligingly tried to neuter the Taiwanese government in order to make things easier for them. In essence, the bill in question would have removed the Taiwanese government from the regulatory picture, allowing the communists to negotiate the matter with private Taiwanese entities.
So, that's part of it. Ms. Wang and the DPP regarded the bill as a sell-out to the communists, and they were willing to take extreme measures in order to stop it. But I think there's just a bit more to it than that. The direct links bill isn't merely a sell-out; it's an IRREVERSIBLE sell-out. If the bill is passed, Taiwan will move just a little bit deeper into China's orbit. Will successive Taiwanese governments ever be able to repeal the bill and re-establish control over this area of policy?
Not on your life. Think about the grief the Taiwanese government received from both China and America over the abolition of the National Unification Council. Now remember, THAT was a defunct body with a $30 a year budget that hadn't met in seven years. Direct links represents something much more substantial: the movement of hundreds of thousands of people between Taiwan and China yearly.
Imagine the fallout if a successive Taiwanese government were to try to alter THAT status quo.
UPDATE: It's a pity the China Post doesn't post many pictures on its website, or I'd link to Picture #4 on the front page of the May 31st edition. I'll just describe it instead:
Ms. Wang's head is pulled back by one woman from the PFP, who's clutching a fistful of Wang's hair. Meanwhile, two men and one woman from the party tightly grip her arms and shoulders to restrain her. One of the men has this big obscene grin on his face, making it seem like he enjoys holding her down just a bit too much.
UPDATE (June 10/06): Another clever parliamentary maneuver. This time not from Taiwan, but Canada:
June 6 (Bloomberg ) — The Canadian government's C$227 billion ($204 billion) budget was passed in the House of Commons after opposition lawmakers accidentally failed to stand up to debate the spending plan. (Emphasis added)
"It passed with unanimous consent,'' Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters outside the House of Commons in Ottawa today.
The opposition allowed a federal budget bill to pass unanimously without debate?
Whoopsie-daisy. Bet somebody's asking for a 'do-over'.
Visited Taoyuan yesterday, and saw a Taiwanese motorcyclist wearing a grey Nazi helmet, complete with tilted, clockwise swastika.* I wondered if he was even remotely aware that he was celebrating an ideology that would have classified him as an untermenschen.
Ah, well. Not everybody can be a rocket scientist.
Seeing him though, made me regret that I didn't go to yesterday's anti-Chen rally in Taipei. Likely as not, there would have been one of those Chen-as-Hitler effigies present, which I'd really have liked to have gotten a picture of. I suppose it's the irony that appeals to me. This week, Chen voluntarily 'delegated' some of his powers, heeding demands by members of his party who were fed up with his falling poll numbers and an insider-trading scandal involving his brother-in-law.
Voluntarily relinquishing power - sure sounds like Hitler to me!
All this aside, the request to delegate executive power initially struck me as being unconstitutional, and indeed, Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT argued exactly that on Thursday. Opposed to this were other commentators, who pointed out that since the limits of the Taiwanese presidency are vaguely defined in the first place**, relinquishing some of the powers that the president currently holds poses no constitutional problem. Taking this a step further, Joe Hung of the China Post (and no friend to Chen) wrote that the only power the ROC president is explicitly given is the power to appoint the premier, so Chen's decision to delegate really represents a movement to a more faithful reading of the constitution. If Hung is right, then Ma is surely wrong: It can hardly be unconstitutional for a president to relinquish powers he was never authorized to exercise in the first place.
Regardless of who's right, the opposition can smell the blood in the water***. To the consternation of his supporters however, Ma is playing it cool on all the talk of impeachment, claiming that he prefers to pull the trigger when he can be certain of hitting his mark. Here though, he leaves unspoken the very real possibility that impeachment proceedings may do little more than rally dispirited and disillusioned Chen supporters. Because while alleged insider trading by a brother-in-law may be politically embarrassing, it certainly isn't an impeachable offence, provided that the President himself wasn't personally involved in the matter.
* The orientation of the swastika is not an unimportant detail, as a level, counter-clockwise swastika is a Buddhist symbol here, which is frequently used on signs to designate vegetarian restaurants.
** If the limits of the ROC presidency are truly ill-defined, then surely that would be an additional argument in favor of further constitutional reform.
*** Not being an ROC constitutional scholar, I'm still trying to figure all of this out. But what I CAN say with some confidence is that there probably isn't much constitutional basis for opposition demands that Vice-President Annette Lu step down because of her "lack of charisma". I may not know much, but I'm reasonably sure that being charismatically-challenged isn't a high crime or misdemeanor.
UPDATE (Jun 4/06): I neglected to mention that some of the responsibilities that Chen gave up have nothing to do with his position as president, and instead are due to his position as a party heavyweight. At least some of this should therefore be viewed as an intra-party power struggle, rather than as a constitutional violation.