Politics & Law

Taiwan Politics Review – Legislative Yuan powers

19 June, 2024

Significant developments over the past month: New cabinet’s priorities, Legislative Yuan attempt to expand its powers is challenged by the Executive Yuan, a military academy anniversary, Europe relations in focus, and more…


By Ross Darrell Feingold

New cabinet priority issues
On 20 May, new Premier Cho Jung-tai (卓榮泰) announced priority issues for the new Cabinet. Cho said the cabinet will focus on cracking down on fraud, as well as crimes involving corruption, illegal arms possession and drugs. On energy issues, Cho showed continuity with the former administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) when he said that government will not abandon its goal of creating a “nuclear-free homeland.”


Analysis: A new administration again comes with reiterated pledges to fight drugs and fraud. In 2016 after Tsai took office, newly appointed Premier Lin Chuan pledged that “strengthening law enforcement and fighting drugs and crime” are a priority for the new government. Subsequently, the Tsai administration proposed several measures to combat illicit drugs. Unfortunately, Internet or mobile phone based fraudsters, who often work from overseas locations, are sufficiently tech-savvy that they remain a step ahead of law enforcement despite the best efforts of Taiwan’s law enforcement agencies.


With regard to energy, CNBC recently published an article titled Taiwan’s energy crunch could ‘throw a wrench’ into the global semiconductor industry. Needless to say, foreign media coverage of Taiwan’s potential energy shortages will attract the attention of relevant government agencies, and the Lai Administration will likely make greater efforts to reassure the public and industry that Taiwan has sufficient energy supply even without nuclear power. The daily power consumption curve by energy type is published by Taipower in English and Mandarin.


Legislative Yuan expands its authority but Executive Yuan vetoes the legislation
On 28 May the Legislative Yuan passed bills to increase the Legislature's oversight over the government -- a package supported by the opposition Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang, KMT) and Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) but opposed by the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). The package includes measures to expand the legislature's investigative and hearing powers (including over the private sector), adds a "contempt of the legislature" by government officials offense to the Criminal Code, and "invites" the president to give an annual state of the nation address and take questions from legislators.


Protests against the legislation attracted thousands of participants and was named the “Bluebird Movement” (青鳥運動) after Qingdao East Road (青島東路) where the protestors congregated.


The Presidential Office said the “reform bills fail to reflect public expectations”, and the Executive Yuan vetoed the legislation after obtaining President Lai’s approval to do so. Under the Constitution, if the Executive Yuan finds a bill passed by the Legislative Yuan difficult to execute, it can, with presidential approval, request the Legislature's reconsideration within 10 days of receiving the bill.


Foreigners also opined on the legislation, with a joint letter signed by a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan’s Taipei office and other foreign scholars and media figures. A US-based democracy advocacy organisation’s leadership published a commentary critical of the legislation.


An explainer of Taiwan’s veto process, as well as the process to seek a Constitutional Court interpretation, is available in English and Mandarin. Within 15 days of receiving the cabinet's request to reconsider the legislation, the Legislature Yuan is required to vote on whether to uphold the passage of the bill. This requires the consent of more than half of all sitting legislators, or a minimum of 57 votes in the current Legislative Yuan, to uphold the bill. The Legislative Yuan “re-vote” is scheduled for 21 June.


Separately, legislators can seek a Constitutional Court interpretation, during which the court can “stay” (i.e., freeze) the newly passed laws for six months pending the court’s decision.


Analysis: Taiwan’s version of a veto is codified in Article 3 of the “Additional Articles” to the Constitution (available in English and Mandarin). Use of this process is rare; a list of past instances when the Executive Yuan returned a bill to the Legislative Yuan is available in English.


Despite the protestors outside the Legislative Yuan, according to a Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation (TPOF) poll released on 28 May, 57.5% support creation of a "contempt of parliament" crime (available in Mandarin) for government officials, and only 29.2% opposite it. A subsequent TPOF poll released on 17 June showed 51.9% supported the Executive Yuan’s decision to return the laws to the Legislative Yuan.


For business leaders, obligations to respond to the Legislative Yuan’s new powers of investigation (including information requests) or to hold hearings (which witnesses must attend when called) should be carefully reviewed.


Local government allocations, the next partisan fight
Amid the ongoing dispute over expansion of the Legislative Yuan’s powers, another partisan fight is looming over possible revisions to the Act Governing the Allocation of Government Revenues and Expenditures (available in English and Mandarin). Last year during the election campaign, the TPP had pledged to pursue “amendments to expand the distribution of funds to local governments, and ensure that they are allocated at a uniform rate to all cities and counties”. Under the current allocation system, almost two-thirds of the tax revenue allocated to local governments go to Taiwan's six special municipalities, with the remaining one-third split between 16 other cities and counties. According to media reports, the KMT and TPP have proposed 20 different versions of amendments to the act with a goal of increasing the amount of money provided to local governments. The law was last revised in 1999.


Analysis: A statutory requirement to allocate more money from tax collections to local governments might help the KMT continue its recent local election success. In the 2022 local election, of the 22 local government units whose head is directly elected, the KMT won 14 seats, the DPP won five seats, and the TPP won one seat, with independents winning two.

World Health Assembly again shuts out Taiwan
The 77th World Health Assembly (WHA) was held from 27 May to 1 June in Geneva. Despite no invitation for Taiwan to participate even as an observer, Taiwan again dispatched an “action team” led by Health and Welfare Minister Chiu Tai-yuan (邱泰源) to hold events on the sidelines of the WHA meetings. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed in a press release that “International support for Taiwan’s bid to participate in the WHA reached record heights”. In a separate press release, the ministry said “eleven diplomatic allies...made statements at different events mentioning Taiwan” and that “As of 28 May, Japan, Canada, the Czech Republic, the United States, New Zealand, Lithuania, Estonia, and Luxembourg had spoken out…”. President Lai met the action team upon its return to Taiwan and said “the team fought for the human right to health for both Taiwan and the world”.


Analysis: Unfortunately for Taiwan, statements by other governments of their support for Taiwan's substantive participation in the WHA did not change the reality that China has sufficient support among members to maintain the status quo. Next year's WHA will give new foreign minister Lin Chia-lung an opportunity to try a different approach.


Europe relations in focus
On 13 June President Lai attended the ECCT’s 2024 Europe Day Dinner (a transcript of Lai’s speech is available in English and Mandarin). Lai noted that “our relations are now at an all-time high” and “Europe is Taiwan’s third largest trading partner as well as Taiwan’s largest source of foreign investment”. Of especial interest to European companies with operations in Taiwan, Lai reiterated the Taiwan government’s “hope to sign an economic partnership agreement with the EU”.


Separately, upon the visit of a Czech Republic delegation (see below), President Lai noted that in September Taiwan will open its first overseas IC design training base in Prague. The Czech Republic also launched the “Czech Centre Taipei” to promote Czech culture and foster exchanges.


Analysis: Lai’s predecessors President Ma Ying-jeou and President Tsai both repeatedly and publicly called for a bilateral investment agreement whether at ECCT events, in meetings with visiting European parliamentarians, or other forums. If such an agreement is negotiated in the coming four years, how the opposition-led Legislative Yuan will respond is unknown at this time.


Narendra Modi responds to President Lai’s congratulatory message
Following the recent parliamentary election in India, President Lai posted to X a congratulatory message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, to which Modi posted a thank you reply. Former editor of China’s Global Times English language edition Hu Xijin posted to X that Modi “has crossed the line” and “he will make India pay the price”.


Analysis: Relations between India and Taiwan continue to “reach a higher orbit” as a commentator recently described it, most notably in investment and trade, which includes a plan to add India as a source for foreign labour. Whether this will also include political support remains to be seen. There are recent examples of leaders engaging in “X diplomacy” with Taiwan only to back down upon China’s response; in January following the Presidential election, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. posted on X a congratulatory message to president-elect Lai and Lai responded with his thanks, only for the Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs to quickly issue a statement that “The Philippines is committed to its One-China Policy”.


Republic of China military academy anniversary
On 16 June, President Lai attended the 100th anniversary celebration events for what is now known as the Republic of China Military Academy. Previously known as Whampoa Military Academy, the school was founded on 16 June 1924 in Whampoa (黄埔, also known as Huangpu) district in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. China's Central Military Commission reportedly approached retired generals in Taiwan and invited them to attend a centennial celebration in China, which Veterans Affairs Council Minister Yen De-fa (嚴德發) said is a China "united front" tactic.


Analysis: President Lai’s attendance, coming so soon after he took office, is notable both because of his need to establish a good working relationship with the military as well as associating himself with pre-1949 (when the Nationalists retreated to Taiwan at the end of the Chinese civil war) Republic of China historical events. Going forward it will be rare for President Lai to associate his government with other pre-1949 history of the Republic of China.


Travel by Taiwan politicians
A cross-party delegation of legislators travelled to Geneva as part of Taiwan’s sideline events at the WHA. The delegation included Deputy Legislative Speaker Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) of the KMT, Wang Cheng-hsu (王正旭) of the DPP, Chen Ching-hui (陳菁徽) of the KMT, and Lin Yi-chun (林憶君) of the TPP.


KMT Vice Chairman Sean Lien (連勝文) attended the “Straits Forum” in Xiamen, China where he met with Wang Huning (王滬寧), chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.


Notable foreign visitors to Taiwan
Over the past month, notable visitors to Taiwan included Lord Faulkner of Worcester, the United Kingdom’s trade envoy to Taiwan (together with a delegation from the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group led by Lord Rogan), International Peace Foundation Founder and Chairman Uwe Morawetz, a bi-partisan delegation of US Representatives led by Michael McCaul (Republican -Texas) who is Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a bi-partisan delegation of U.S. Senators, former US government officials Matt Pottinger and Ivan Kanapathy (who visited to promote the Mandarin language version of a recently published book they co-authored titled The Boiling Moat: Urgent Steps to Defend Taiwan), a delegation led by Czech Republic Senate First Vice-President Jiří Drahoš (which also included the Deputy Minister for Science, Research and Innovation Jana Havlíková), and, former American Institute in Taiwan Chairman James Moriarty.


In a rare visit by a government official from China, Zhong Xiaomin (鍾曉敏), the head of the Shanghai municipal branch of the central government’s Taiwan Affairs Office, visited Taipei and met with Mayor Wayne Chiang (蔣萬安) to discuss preparations for the annual Taipei-Shanghai twin-city forum, which this year will be in Taipei.

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