Politics is not the answer to ‘dinosaur judges’

The China Post news staff

The Judicial Reform National Conference organized by the Presidential Office made suggestions on Monday to drastically cut the number of Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court judges from 94 to 21, as well as to give the president the final say over judicial appointments. The proposed reforms sparked fears of a power grab by the Tsai administration. By reducing the number of judges, many fear that power will be concentrated in the hands of a small group. Furthermore, with the president having final say over appointees, the positions are now likely to become far more politicized. The Judicial Yuan has pointed out that a similar presidential or legislative-appointment system for supreme court judges is also used in nations such as Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and the U.S. In fact, Taiwan’s current system, in which the Judicial Yuan nominates judges for approval by the Legislative Yuan, is actually an exception compared to international standards. However, it is hard to understand why the Judicial Reform National Conference saw presidential appointment as the solution to the problems of Taiwan’s judicial system. The Judicial Yuan’s assurances that political appointments would not lead to political influence did nothing to assuage the public’s concerns. Two of the most common complaints regarding Taiwan’s judicial system are its apparent lack of independence and the out-of-touch nature of some judges — known locally as “dinosaur judges.” Turning the Supreme Court judges into political appointees will worsen the former without doing anything to help solve the latter.

It is telling that the government is confident enough to push forward such a controversial proposal even as its disapproval ratings soar. According to a poll released by the pan-green Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation on Monday, 59.1 percent of the public disapproved of one-party rule under the Democratic Progressive Party.

The government can afford to risk further alienating the electorate over political influence in the judicial system in part because of the feeble state of the opposition. The infighting among the Kuomintang (KMT) — which is only set to intensify with the battle for the party’s leadership in the upcoming chairmanship election — weakens its ability to challenge the government’s policies.

Without firm direction from the party, some KMT supporters have resorted to antics such as beheading a statue of a Japanese engineer from the colonial period.

It has been fashionable to call for the breakup of the KMT, but the fact is that a healthy opposition isn’t only important for its supporters. A democratic system is only worthwhile if there are proper checks and balances to keep the government on its guard and to make sure its policies are formulated for the benefit of the electorate. A system that allows the government to act with impunity is a broken system. Voters of all colors should hope for a KMT revival.