Strange things occur in Taiwan politics, and they do perhaps because ours is a new-born democracy, where politicians have yet to learn how to be politicians. One such thing, which verges on folly, is an ongoing attempt by the Democratic Progressive Party to so amend the Presidential and Vice Presidential Election and Recall Law that Ma Ying-jeou, a former mayor of Taipei, may be forbidden to run for the nation’s highest public office.
Convinced that none of its presidential hopefuls can beat Ma, who had to step down as chairman of the Kuomintang on February 13 after he had been indicted for corruption, the ruling party is proposing to add an amendment that disqualifies anyone so convicted at the first trial as a candidate.Ma is standing trial for the misuse of his expense account while he was mayor of the capital city from 1998 to 2006.He is set to get his party’s nomination for president.All polls show Ma is enjoying an unbeatable lead over any of the four leaders of the governing party who wish to carry its standard, come next March.
Ma may be convicted and sentenced to – according to his undeclared Kuomintang rival Wang Jin-pyng, who is president of the Legislative Yuan – more than ten years in prison.Should Ma be proven guilty at the first trial, the law as amended to the satisfaction of the Democratic Progressive Party would outlaw his candidacy.That means the governing party will greatly improve the chance of getting one of its four leaders to succeed President Chen Shui-bian.
The attempt to stop Ma, which was of course denied by the Democratic Progressive Party, was thwarted temporarily last week. With lawmakers of the People First Party boycotting a steering committee meeting, the Kuomintang failed on Tuesday to prevent the amendment proposal from being scheduled for review at a Legislative Yuan plenary session three days later.If it had been reviewed, the ruling party might have successfully referred it for a second reading.But the Kuomintang regained support of its legislative ally to adjourn the plenary meeting on Friday, sending the amendment bill back to the steering committee.The chances are that if the cooperation between the two opposition parties holds, the bill will be stalled for quite sometime to come.
What is ridiculous is that practically all lawmakers know it is unconstitutional to tamper with the qualification for the office of president.The Constitution stipulates: “Any citizen of the Republic of China who has attained the age of 40 years may be elected President or Vice President.”That is the only constitutional requirement of eligibility a presidential candidate has to fulfill. Any law or regulation that adds any more qualification is unconstitutional.
There is one more relevant article in the Constitution.It says: “The election of the President and the Vice President shall be prescribed by law.”That gave birth to the election and recall law which bars anyone found guilty of corruption after the third trial from running for president.Apparently, that clause is unconstitutional, albeit all other stipulations of that law do not run counter to the Constitution.So far, however, nobody has ever tried to contest the constitutionality of the disqualification clause.
As a matter of fact, the Kuomintang could have let the amendment pass and then ask the Council of Grand Justices to rule it unconstitutional.The grand justices, who are all President Chen’s appointees, may try to stall but dare not openly side with the ruling party to preempt Ma’s bid for 2008.Ma will be able to run, though at a disadvantage perhaps as a candidate convicted of corruption. On the other hand, he may be acquitted, making the Kuomintang’s fight for his survival as its standard bearer nothing but much ado about nothing.
Obviously, the Democratic Progressive Party is following in the footsteps of its tiny political partner, the Taiwan Solidarity Union.The minor party, of which former President Lee Teng-hui is the spiritual leader, wanted to stop Lien Chan and James Soong in 2004.The chairmen of the Kuomintang and the People First Party were then considered unbeatable.So Lee’s lawmakers proposed an amendment to the election and recall law that would disqualify candidates for president and vice president who are not naturally born citizens of the Republic of China.Their rationale was that Taiwan should follow the example of the United States, whose Constitution allows “no person except a natural born only citizen” to be “eligible to the office of President.”
Both Lien and Soong were born in China.But they are all citizens of the Republic of China, and the Constitution does not preclude them from running for president and vice president.In fact, a natural born citizen referred to in the U.S. Constitution is anybody born an American citizen.All those born outside the United States but of parents who are American citizens are regarded as natural born citizens of the United States.Similarly, those born in China before the government of the Republic of China moved to Taipei at the end of 1948 are natural born citizens of the Republic of China.
Lee Teng-hui must have known that for a fact.His legislators did not try to put their proposal on the agenda of the Legislative Yuan.Even if they had, any such amendment would never have been enacted.Lien and Soong were narrowly defeated by President Chen and his Vice President Annette Lu, who were helped by the mystery-shrouded shooting rumored by underground radio stations in southern Taiwan as an assassination attempt orchestrated by Beijing.
The 2004 episode was called Bulletgate, because two bullets were fired against Chen and Lu at Tainan on the eve of the election.Ma is involved in what has come to be known as Accountgate, for he is being tried for the misuse of his expense account.The Democratic Progressive Party is trying to repeat its Bulletgate success by getting Ma mired in the Accountgate scandal.