The China Desk
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Taiwan's Little Emperors
September 23, 1999
His Imperial Majesty Lee Teng-hui crowns Lien Chan Taiwan's next Emperor
Republic of China President Lee Teng-hui, whom Newsweek magazine anointed "Mr. Democracy" in a stupifying naive 1996 Asian Edition cover story, recently disabused voters of any illusions they entertained that they lived in a republic and not a monarchy.
The occasion was a ruling Kuomintang (KMT) photo op, broadcast all over Taiwan, during which President Lee Teng-hui made his heir apparent officially known. Lee and his hand-picked successor Vice-president Lien Chan stood at center stage, beaming and waving to a vast sea of cheering KMT party faithful, bussed in from all over the island at party expense to ensure an Standing Room Only crowd for the TV cameras.
Suddenly, KMT Yes Men swooped in from the wings of the podium and draped an Imperial Yellow Emperor's robe over Lien Chan's shoulders.
Only one problem. Somebody forgot to memo Lien Chan.
Lien was, to use a technical term from clinical psychology, discombobulated. On the one hand, he was high as a kite. What every fruit vendor on Taiwan knew for years was now official. Lien would be Taiwan's next Emperor. On the other hand, even the aloof and haughty Lien, unlike senile buffoon Lee, had sense enough to realize this little charade might rub voters the wrong way. The yellow robe clung to his shoulders for mere seconds before a nonplused Lien managed to shrug it off with embarassment.
Anyone who has ever been "arrested" and handcuffed at a surprise birthday party by a stripper masquerading as a uniformed cop knows exactly how Lien felt.
Lee's extravagantly funded but ultimately shabby little burlesque impressed the voting public, only not the way Mr. Democracy had in mind. Lee shot his Heir Apparent in the metaphorical foot. Like Marie Antoinette's ingenuous suggestion "Let them eat cake," Lee's amateurish high school skit betrayed just how clueless Mr. Democracy was about anything resembling genuine democracy.
KMT and DPP National Assemblymen crown themselves Little Emperors
Mr. Democracy Lee Teng-hui is a real piece of work. But Kuomintang (KMT) and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) members of the ROC National Assembly one-upped even him. Too impatient to wait around for someone else to crown them Little Emperors, these highly-motivated public servants donned Imperial Yellow Robes on their own. They "voted democratically" to increase their own elective four year terms of office by an additional two years.
Under what system of genuine representative government can elected officials, without consulting the voters, simply go ahead and lengthen their own terms? Not for future office-holders mind you, but their own, current terms?
How, but more importantly, why the KMT and DPP delivered this slap to the face of Government of the People, by the People, and for the People, is one for the books.
Make no mistake. KMT and DPP Assemblymen knew they were doing was unconstitutional. KMT and DPP Assemblymen knew what they were doing was undemocratic. KMT and DPP Assemblymen knew what they were doing would not go over well with the public.
That's why they hid their faces from reformist New Party (NP) protestors holding an all-night vigil outside the National Assembly main gate. That's why they tried to slink into the Assembly Hall unnoticed through the side entrance. That's why when caught in the act they covered their nametags with the palms of their hands and refused to identify themselves.
The New Party: The Loyal Opposition
Inside the National Assembly, New Party Assemblymen reminded their honorable KMT and DPP colleagues of something which apparently slipped their minds: National Assemblymen had no legal authority to vote on such a matter in the first place. Their authority was delegated, by the people. Their terms of office were defined, by the people. The people decide how long they serve. Assemblymen don't get to make that call. If the people authorized them to serve four years, then they serve four years. Not six years. Not four years and one day, but four years.
New Party Assemblymen, all 39 of them, unable to disabuse themselves of the notion that the Constitution of a constitutional republic is sacrosanct, resorted to various tactics to prevent the "term extension" from being brought to a vote. They repeatedly exited the proceedings en masse just prior to key votes in order to leave the Assembly without a quorum.
But National Assembly Speaker Su Nan-cheng (KMT) was under secret, "plausibly deniable" orders from KMT Party Chairman Lee Teng-hui to ram this unconstitutional measure through the National Assembly or else commit seppuku. DPP Assemblymen were under similar orders from DDP National Assemblyman and Party Whip Law I-tieg.
Not that most KMT and DPP Assemblymen needed much arm-twisting. Their greed, ambition and pragmatism meshed perfectly with the greed, ambition and separatist zealotry of Lee and Law, the string-pullers behind this anti-democratic puppet show.
Lee and Law: Basically Lawless
What was so important to Mr. Democracy that such heavy-handed authoritarian tactics had to be brought to bear on the National Assembly?
The real reason was not perks and pork for the Assemblymen. The real reason was to ensure that the composition of the National Assembly would not be reconfigured by anything so pesky as a regularly scheduled election during Lee's remaining eight months as president and remaining two years as KMT Party Chairman. Lee was desperate to ensure that the current KMT and DPP Assemblymen were not voted out of office before they voted "democratically" to enshrine Lee's "two states" theory into law.
Lee Teng-hui and Law I-tieg plan to declare Taiwan independence, by stealth. They would morph the Constitution of the Republic of China into a "Taiwan Basic Law." Neither loyal citizens of the Republic of China, nor clueless western China critics would realize what was happening right under their noses.
When mainland China figured out this legalistic sleight of hand amounted to defacto secession and moved to prevent it, Lee would paint the anti-secessionist mainland as an "anti-democratic bully intent on imposing a communist dictatorship on a democratic Taiwan," and smear anti-secessionists on Taiwan as "Tai-jian" ("traitors to Taiwan") or "Communist agents."
New Party Assemblymen were not fooled for one minute. They knew perfectly well what was going on. They pointed out if the KMT and DPP insisted on going through with this unconstitutional charade masquerading as parliamentary procedure, their "term extension" would have no legal validity. They would not be real National Assemblymen, but former National Assemblymen pretending to be National Assemblymen. Any "constitutional reforms" they subsequently went through the motions of passing would be legally null and void.
New Party Assemblymen also knew, unfortunately, they simply didn't have enough seats by themselves to stop this infernal machinery in its tracks. Confronted with the grim prospect KMT and DPP Assemblymen would get away with this pretense, the New Party Assemblymen decided they had no choice but to participate in the voting. All 39 voted no.
When the ballots were counted, the measure was defeated! By six votes. DPP Whip Law I-tieg mounted the podium and expressed regret that such a "worthy" measure had been defeated.
Two hundred New Party protestors monitoring the proceedings on television monitors in the Assembly antechamber roared in jubilation. Their sleepless two day vigil had paid off. They had shamed just enough non-New Party Assemblymen into honoring the Constitution they had sworn to uphold.
The measure had been defeated, fair and square. That, under any bona fide parliamentary democracy, should have been the end of it, right?
A Mad Tea Party
Wrong. Remember, this is not "Democracy." This is "Taiwan Democracy."
The first ballot had been open, forcing those who voted yes to identify themselves as answerable to the voters.
KMT and DPP Assemblymen demanded a second ballot. This time, in secret. The rationale offered was that with such a close vote, another ballot was "reasonable." Assembly Speaker Su, after a brief show of coy resistance, caved in and decreed that everyone had to vote again.
KMT and DPP party enforcers turned the screws on the handful of their own party members who had retained a shred of conscience. Meanwhile secret balloting would give anyone who voted no the first time around the option of changing their vote but lying with a straight face they were among the handful of non-New Party Assemblymen who stood firm and voted no.
When the second ballot was taken, the measure passed. By one vote. All 39 New Party Assemblymen had again voted no. To prove it, every one of them defiantly exposed their own "secret" ballots to public view, prompting KMT and DPP thugs to threaten them with bodily injury.
Did Assembly Speaker Su demand a third ballot, seeing how the vote was now even closer? Wouldn't yet another ballot be even more "reasonable?" Are you kidding? Now that Su had gotten Mr. Democracy Lee Teng-hui and DPP Party Whip Law I-tieg the result they ordered, end of story.
New Party Assemblymen, seeing their heroic efforts to expose this pseudo-democratic con job staged for the benefit of the politically unsophisticated "silent majority" come to naught, and confronted with ugly threats of physical assault, protested the only way they had left, by walking out and boycotting the remainder of the proceedings.
KMT and DPP party hacks are accustomed to getting away with murder. Occasionally some victimized constituency will raise a ruckus, but absent sufficient outrage in a critical mass of an ROC public too numb to believe their wishes make the slightest difference, KMT and DPP party hacks simply lay low until the storm blows over.
Who Ya Gonna Believe? Me, or Your Lying Eyes?
This time however things looked different. The KMT and DPP had correctly anticipated public indignation, but they underestimated the intensity. To their consternation what they forecast as a tropical storm shaped up as a full-fledged hurricane. Taiwan's electorate was "mad as hell and not going to take it any more."
Caught off balance, KMT Party Chairman Lee Teng-hui, KMT Party Secretary John Chang scuttled for cover, like cockroaches surprised when the kitchen light is turned on. Both flatly denied all responsibility for the measure's passage, turned on hapless KMT Assembly Speaker Su Nan-cheng, lambasting him for "defying the will of the Party for purely selfish motives." Poor Su. Yesterday the Good Soldier, today the Designated Fall Guy. In a show trial worthy of Joe Stalin or Chairman Mao, Su was stripped of his National Assembly Speakership, his National Assemblyman seat, even his KMT Party membership. All for carrying out Chairman Lee Teng-hui's orders to the letter. I almost felt sorry for him. Almost.
DPP Party Whip Law I-tieg scuttled too, only in the opposite direction. Rather than deny complicity, he admitted orchestrating the entire charade with Mr. Democracy from behind the scenes. Instead Law spun the DPP's power-grab as high-minded "reform." Taiwan was holding too many elections, he averred. The Election Commission was spending too much money holding elections. Candidates were spending too much money running for elective offices. Term extensions were passed "merely to synchronize Assembly elections with quadrennial Legislative Yuan elections." Lengthened terms were evidence of "DPP fiscal responsibility." As evidence of their "good faith," DPP Assemblymen hastily called press conferences in which they offered to "donate their salaries to charity."
An Idea whose Time has Come. And Gone
Now here's an idea whose time has come. Fewer elections to save taxpayers money! The separatist Democratic Progressive Party is certainly nothing if not "democratic" and "progressive." Now why didn't our own congressional budget-cutters think it? Forget about term limits. GOP congressmen who got all worked up about term limits while out of power certainly have, now that they control congress. Why not let House members save on biennial campaigns by voting themselves a "Taiwan term extension" and simply serve six years like our Senators?
Hell, why stop there? Why not let Bill Clinton extend his current four year term by two years while we're at it? In fact, why not institute a monarchy? Bill Clinton could emulate Mr. Democracy Lee Teng-hui by arranging to drape a yellow emperor's robe over Prince Albert at the Democratic convention. I see a budget surplus accumulating already.
Ministry of Truth, or "Minitrue"
How did newspapers and television stations owned and operated by the KMT and DPP party machines report this sordid affair? Realizing they couldn't get their own National Assemblymen off scot-free by whitewashing them, they ran headlines such as "Three Parties Share in the Spoils," smearing the idealistic, reformist New Party, which had done everything humanly possible to prevent this outrage from materializing, lumping them together with the actual culprits from their own parties.
War is Peace
Hapless citizens of the Republic of China, whom China Threat theorists helpfully inform us "live in a thriving democracy, unlike Chinese on the mainland," have watched in impotent rage as sleazy Taiwan separatist demagogues twice trampled over their rights by "donning the Yellow Robes" of emperors.
The cruel hoax they have perpetrated on the trusting citizens they were elected to serve mean nothing to Taiwan's separatist elite. The rule of law means nothing to Taiwan's separatist elite. The ROC Constitution they swore to uphold when they assumed the offices they currently occupy mean less than nothing to Taiwan's separatist elite. But above all, ordinary ROC citizens' humble aspirations for a life of peace and prosperity mean nothing to Taiwan's separatist elite.
The Taiwan separatist elite's American passports and green cards are all in order. They're not sweating it. They'll be lined up at TPE boarding gates bound for LA or Tokyo faster than you can say "Incoming!" If ordinary Chinese citizens stuck on Taiwan die, that's too bad. What are the lives of faceless proles and plebes compared to the Taiwan separatist elites' dream of a "Republic of Taiwan?" Or rather, if truth in labeling applied to politics, a "Kingdom of Taiwan?" An intolerant, petty, insular little kingdom, with Taiwan's Little Emperors installed on the throne?