Legislative session to decide fate of key bills

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Staff

Taiwan’s political parties are gearing up for an extraordinary session of the Legislative Yuan this week in a battle to determine which key bills are passed and which party will come out of it all with the most attractive image for voters.

The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) wants to push through 16 bills in this period, but with the political mudslinging going on, the outcome of any one bill is uncertain. The DPP along with the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) and minority populist People First Party (PFP) are all mindful of the coming end-of-year legislative elections, local media reports said.

Winning a legislative majority at the end of the year will be crucial for the DPP as currently President Chen Shui-bian has to battle a hostile, opposition-dominated legislature and often cannot gain legislative approval for Cabinet’s draft bills. The extraordinary legislative session, starting Wednesday and finishing the Friday of the following week, will allow for quick passage of bills by deciding on each one by single votes from the entire Legislative house.

A crowd-pleaser and the least controversial bill most likely to be passed is a special budget for relief for Typhoon Mindulle victims. “No one will dare to say no to this,” a report from the semi-official Central News Agency said yesterday.

The other 15 bills supported by the DPP include a draft amendment to the Constitution for downsizing the 225-member Legislative Yuan, a special budget of NT$500 billion to develop infrastructure projects over the next five years, a revision to the special bill for expanding public services and increasing job opportunities, and others related to revisions of laws on stock trading, financial reforms, the criminal code, pensions, taxation and aspects of copyright, DPP legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming said.

The KMT is expected to push for a bill authorizing the formation a special commission to investigate the mysterious election eve shooting of Chen and another commission to investigate the government’s response to it.

The KMT is also expected to push for a bill concerning the organization of the proposed national communication commission, one relating to the Central Election Commission and a third relating to the ways the Legislature exercises its power.

Ker said the DPP did not view any one bill as priority and hoped the would all be passed in the extraordinary session.

He said his caucus would seek support from various parties in an extraordinary session coordination meeting called by Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng today. Taiwan Solidarity Union legislative whip Chen Chien-ming, said his party, an ally of the DPP, would only support seven of the bills as the TSU did not believe there was enough time in the extraordinary session to review all 16.

Some of the bills are becoming a focus of the political power struggles between the DPP and the opposition.

The KMT and DPP are giving particular attention to a bill authorizing a downsizing of the 225-seat legislature. The KMT recently gave unexpected support to the bill, and is using it to promote the image that it is in favor of reform in preparation for the end-of-year elections. The DPP, which has supported the bill all along, is now accusing the KMT of empty promises, with senior DPP politicians saying the KMT knows the bill will not be passed and is only pushing for its passage for political spin to spruce up its stagnant and conservative image.

The KMT’s ally, the PFP, opposes this bill.

PFP whip Liu Wen-hsiung argued that his party does not oppose the bill per se but opposes discussing it in this extraordinary session. Liu said amending the constitution to downsize the legislature was a serious matter and could not be resolved hastily by putting it to the vote in one session.

The PFP yesterday locked horns with a group of activists lead by former DPP chairman Lin Yi-hsiung, who have long been pushing to downsize the Legislature through constitutional reform.

Yeh Po-wen, one of the activist group’s leaders, said the PFP’s argument was ridiculous as the bill had been deliberated by Taiwan’s political parties for over three years. Political parties had formally agreed upon it before the March 20 presidential election, but its passage was blocked then by independents.

Yeh said his group would also visit Wang today to get his support for the bill.

After this, the activists will stage hunger strikes outside the Legislature to pressure the legislators to put the bill on the agenda.

Analysts say the PFP opposes downsizing the Legislature as a downsized Legislature would not favor small political parties, like the PFP. For her part, independent Legislator Kao-Chin Su-mei announced that she will introduce two draft bills on the interests of aboriginal people at the extra session — one on a basic law governing aboriginal interests and the other on education for aboriginals.