Reform Motivated by Political Calculation is Merely Running in Place
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 25th, 2014
Executive Summary: Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties must not resort to short-term political calculations to increase party power and party interests. We know that such appeals may not move politicians. Only peoples' votes can prevent political parties from considering only their partisan advantage and ignoring the public welfare. Only peoples' votes have a chance to trump politicians' political calculations. Only then can the system benefit from the "veil of ignorance” and ensure impartial conduct and long term stability. Only then can genuine reform promote the welfare of the people. Reform motivated by political calculation is not reform. It is merely running in place.
Full Text Below:
"Which system is best?" That is the question American political philosopher John Rawls and John Harsanyi asked in 1994. Harsayi won the Nobel Prize in economics for his studies in game theory. He and Rawls co-sponsored the concept of the "veil of ignorance". According to this concept, which political system people prefer is based on vested interests and potential benefits. We must assume that everyone in the community has the same chance as everyone else, then ask ourselves, "Do I want such a system?" Unfortunately, the "veil of ignorance" seldom manifests itself on Taiwan's political stage. Over the years, reforms have invariably been based on political calculation. Three recent incidents confirm this.
One. Take the county chiefs and city mayors election “ballot flashing” question. Should council members flash their ballots? Should they be permitted to flash their ballots? This brings us back to the "veil of ignorance" question we discussed earlier. The answer should be clear. But politicians persist in making political calculations. During the nine in one county chiefs and city mayors elections, the DPP said it instructed council members to flash their ballots to prevent the speaker from engaging in vote buying. This is upside down logic. In the past, the DPP invoked legislative consent and stopped KMT legislators from flashing their ballots. Did they do this to prevent vote buying? The most absurd rationalization was offered by DPP legislator Tuan Yi-kang, in a FaceBook comment, "The DPP has been totally consistent. Current advocacy of ballot flashing and past opposition to ballot flashing, are responses to society's demands for social justice."
Tuan Yi-kang's implication was that the DPP invoked legislative consent and stopped KMT legislators from flashing their ballots because the KMT nominee was not a worthy candidate. Conversely, when the DPP demanded ballot flashing during the DPP chairperson election, it was because the DPP nominee was a worthy candidate. Are we to understand that democracy means the DPP must win, and that only a DPP candidate can be a worthy candidate? What is this, if not George Orwell's "Four legs good, two legs bad" from "Animal Farm?" Why not repeal every law on Taiwan, leaving only the one proviso, "DPP good, KMT bad”?
The KMT is not that much better. In respons to legislative consent, it did everything possible to flash ballots. Now it acts aggrieved and calls ballot flashing during the DPP chairperson election a case of "double standards." But how much sympathy can such a complaint garner? Is the DPP the only party that practiced double standards? Is the answer really so difficult? Article 44 of the "Local System Act" clearly states in black and white that local village, township, and municipal elections shall "employ secret ballot to elect or impeach." The answer is simple. The ruling and opposition parties simply ignore it based on their own political calculations.
Take another example. Should the 2016 presidential and legislative elections be merged into one single election? DPP Secretary-General Wong Chin-chu studied the 2012 elections before arriving at a decision. He then held a press conference and declared that merging the two elections could lead to an “untended window,” a gap when no one is in charge. He said "The ruling party is pushing hard for a merger only because it wants to strike while the iron is hot." But following the DPP's victory in the nine in one elections, DPP momentum was at a peak. DPP spokesman Hsu Chia-ching said, "In order to conserve the nation's resources, merging the two elections is makes more sense, and would avoid wasting public funds."
What system is best has a simple answer. Is the motive to save public funds? Is it to avoid an untended window? In the eyes of both political parties, it all boils down to whether the coat tails effect is beneficial or detrimental to its partisan interests. If the coat tails effect is beneficial to a party, it will favor a merger. If the coat tails effect is detrimental, it will oppose any such merger. Once again, political calculations override the rule of law. Political parties opt for merged or separate elections based solely on which enhances its election prospects, rather than the long-term stability of the system.
A third example concerns constitutional issues. During the Ma administration, DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen repeatedly demanded constitutional changes, including voting age changes, increased legislative seats, mixed-member proportional representation for the legislature, and lowered thresholds to achieve official political party status. But upon winning the nine in one elections, the chances of the Democratic Progressive Party winning the 2016 president election dramatically increased. The DPP's constitutional reform posture suddenly turned conservative. The KMT, which dragged its feet and evaded constitutional issues, suddenly turned reformist. Eric Chu announced that as party chairman his starting position would be to favor constitutional reform. He advocated adopting a cabinet system. This flip-flopping farce has been enacted on a variety of issues. If every reform attempt degenerates into a political power struggle, how can Taiwan's political system possibly evolve?
We hope that Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties will value sustainable development, keep the people's long-term interests in mind, and discuss systemic reform. They must not resort to short-term political calculations to increase party power and party interests. We know that such appeals may not move politicians. Only peoples' votes can prevent political parties from considering only their partisan advantage and ignoring the public welfare. Only peoples' votes have a chance to trump politicians' political calculations. Only then can the system benefit from the "veil of ignorance” and ensure impartial conduct and long term stability. Only then can genuine reform promote the welfare of the people.
Reform motivated by political calculation is not reform. It is merely running in place.