Ketagalan Media interviewed New Power Party chairman and legislator Huang Kuo-chang (黃國昌) during his September 9, 2016 visit to Princeton University to speak about transitional justice.
Ketagalan Media: What do you think of the Legislature? What have you learned there your first year, and is there anything about the Legislature’s culture or processes that you want to change?
Huang Kuo-chang: One of the major reasons we founded a new political party in Taiwan—the New Power Party—is that we were very disappointed with how the congress had functioned in the past. There are many examples, but I believe the most famous illustration is how the Cross-Strait Services Trade Agreement was passed: the so-called “30-Second Incident” that triggered the Sunflower Movement. So during our campaign last year, one major reform call we advanced was to reform our Congress to make it more transparent, accountable, and professional. That is the area we devoted ourselves to when we entered the Legislative Yuan.
The past few months—the first session of this term of the Legislative Yuan—I would say things have been improved to a certain degree: at least all the discussions, debate, and even the caucus negotiations can now be found on the Internet, so our voters and the general public can have free access to what is really going on in the Legislative Yuan, and how the legislation was debated and how specific decisions were made in our congress.
But there is certainly room for improvement in the future, and the reform has not been completed yet. I can use two examples to elaborate. The first one is that there are no true congressional hearings in Taiwan. The whole idea of congressional hearings is checks and balances and that officers or ministers from the executive branch should be held accountable for the actions they take and the decisions they make, but the problem is that if they lie in the hearing, there is no consequence for that, and even if they submit false documents or withhold the documents legislators request, there are no consequences whatsoever. So it’s time for us to really perform our function of overseeing the executive branch in that setting.
The second one is that we also don’t have real confirmation hearings yet. We are going to review the Supreme Court nominees in the near future. There have been numerous calls for reform, for at least the past eight years, to change how confirmation proceedings are conducted in congress. Regrettably, although we have submitted our reform bill for consideration in the Legislative Yuan, the bill has yet to be passed, so I’m a little bit worried we might resort to the old-fashioned confirmation procedure when we review the Supreme Court justice nominees of President Tsai.
If I may raise a third example, it would be that some proceedings are redundant, and this provides an opportunity for the opposition party to act irrationally. When we debated the so-called statute to deal with the property unlawfully and improperly taken by the Kuomintang, the Kuomintang could request to make the proceedings so complicated, wasting a lot of time for all of us. It’s a kind of delay strategy. They could ask for a specific method of casting our votes, and that kind of method had not been used for more than, like, fifty years, but it is still provided for in our rules. So that’s got to be changed in the near future. Otherwise, the Kuomintang will continue to block any reform bills in the future via the same strategy.
KM: So you support streamlining the procedures and making it more difficult to filibuster a bill?
Huang: Yes. But when you talk about a filibuster in the United States, those efforts come from the senator who is trying to delay the proceedings by filibuster. But in Taiwan it’s not like that, because the person paying the price is not the congressman who wants to filibuster the bill: He drags the whole body of the Legislative Yuan to repeatedly do meaningless actions with him. So during the so-called filibuster proceedings in Taiwan, the Kuomintang only sent five legislators to stonewall the whole proceedings, but the DPP and the New Power Party all had to be there to make things move along. That is a distinct feature of the so-called filibuster proceedings in Taiwan. We are not saying we should make the procedures in the Legislative Yuan as simple as possible. We want to have more substantive debate. We want party debates with each party defending its own policy and position. Unfortunately, that has not really occurred in our Legislative Yuan.
KM: Recently the legislative parties have been talking about pension reform. Does the NPP have a pension reform plan?
Huang: Yes, we do have a pension reform plan. Actually, we made our plan clear during the campaign last year. The reason we haven’t submitted our bill is that our president, Tsai, wants to have a committee, and she is trying to use committee’s discussion as a mechanism to reach consensus among people from different professions. So because the NPP fully supports her reform efforts on this subject, we are willing to wait until there is some kind of proposal submitted by the committee. Having said that, I have to emphasize that if that committee proves it is not working, we will not wait anymore. We will initiate. We will introduce our bill and push the whole legislative body to start reviewing all the different bills to make the reform become a reality.
KM: A lot of the pension holders, including some of my in-laws, are worried that the green camp is going to take away the benefits that the government promised them. Do you think that the eventual pension reform should decrease benefits or take away benefits?
Huang: It should decrease benefits. There is no doubt about that. Taiwan is not the only country to face this kind of problem. Actually, our reform is coming too late. At the end of the 20th century, many countries—I mean European countries—started to conduct their own pension reforms. Sweden is a very successful example. If you look at those countries that failed to conduct this kind of reform, they failed badly in the 21st century: like Italy, like Spain, like Greece. Their young generations suffered a lot because of the failure to take action. So we simply cannot afford to repeat the same mistake. My opinion is this kind of reform should have been conducted many, many years ago. It dragged too long.
The reform is not about discriminating against the retired teachers, public servants, or our military personnel. It’s not about that. It is also not about the people within those professions I just mentioned traditionally being supporters of the Kuomintang. The reform is also not about that. It’s about the future of Taiwan. It’s also about the next generation.
KM: Recently, people have started to talk about the 2018 election. I remember when you were raising funding for the last election, there was an auction to auction off some Sunflower memorabilia and so on. I was wondering how the New Power Party plans to fund its campaigns and its party operations in the future.
Huang: Currently, all of our finances are supported by the subsidies we’ve received from the last election. So right now we receive about NT$35 million per year, but that kind of budget for a political party, even one as small as ours, is still quite tough. We are trying to set up our branches in several cities in preparation for our 2018 elections. Our plan is to continue to rely on small-amount donations from our supporters. It is not our style to receive huge money, huge donations, from big corporations, because that would violate every principle we hold ourselves to when doing politics in Taiwan. We don’t buy votes, and we don’t do commercial advertisements, so our election expenses are less than the money spent by major parties. Despite that, I have to admit it’s going to be quite tough for us. But I do believe Taiwanese people are hoping this kind of new politics can succeed in Taiwan.
KM: In the last election you had a lot of support from younger voters and from urban voters. How does the New Power Party plans to appeal to rural voters, especially in smaller elections like those for township council or for lizhang (borough warden)?
Huang: That is going to be tough. Our main focus is on the city councils in metropolitan areas such as Taipei City, New Taipei City, Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan, and Kaohsiung. I don’t mean to suggest that we will only nominate candidates in those areas: We will try our best to nominate the best outstanding young candidates in other rural areas. But it really depends on how many talents we can successfully recruit and the resources we can attract for the next election. The vetting to become our candidate is going to be quite serious because we cannot afford to have that kind of scandal where our candidate received that kind of money he or she shouldn’t have received. So we’re optimistic, and we know the support is out there, but we choose to move forward one step at a time.
KM: How do you think the party can appeal to so-called “blue supporters” or KMT voters?
Huang: Let me put it this way. I believe there is a power of reasoning and a power of persuasion within Taiwanese society. During elections, we do not appeal to the sad history in Taiwan; we do not appeal to those political trials that occurred when Taiwan was still under martial law. We try to talk to our constituencies to make them understand why the reforms we propose are so important, not just for the so-called green camp supporters but for Taiwan and for our next generation as a whole. When we do that, I find it quite successful in making traditional blue camp supporters listen to us and become willing to give us a shot. We are trying our very best not to let our supporters down.
KM: One last question: What plans do you have to increase your relationships and your connections here in the United States, for example with the government or with congressmen or with American citizens?
Huang: That is exactly why we took this trip, not only to the United States but also to some European countries. We want our voice to be heard by our friends in the United States, and we also want our friends to understand why we are doing what we are doing right now. We believe so many values are commonly shared by Taiwanese people and our friends around the world, especially our friends in the United States. We believe that by working together, Taiwan and the United States can help to maintain the stability of the East Asian region and to prevent China from taking more aggressive actions in Asia.
KM: Overall, do you all support the Taiwanese government’s claims in the South China Sea?
Huang: That is too complicated to be answered by short statements, but first let me say that we don’t claim the so-called 9-Dash or 11-Dash Line; that kind of historical assertion has no basis under international law. But I would like to also emphasize that Taiwan had been deprived of the opportunity to be heard during the arbitration proceedings, so our due process right was not respected during the proceedings. As a result, it would have been fundamentally unfair for Taiwan to accept the result when we were not even provided the opportunity to be heard.
But I think right now the problem does not lie in Taiwan. The problem lies in China and how it reacts to the arbitration ruling. That is exactly why we ask our friends in the United States to rethink its One China Policy. It’s not working. It’s only exploited by China to do crazy things in that region.
KM: Have you found a lot of support here and in other countries during your visit?
Huang: Oh yes, yes. I think Taiwan’s democracy is a strong rebuttal to the political propaganda China is trying to spread around the world that democracy does not work in Chinese society. That’s simply not true. The very existence of Taiwan’s democracy is the strongest rebuttal to that kind of claim. And by sharing those common values, I have found many efforts from our friends not only in the United States but also in the European Union.
KM: Thank you very much, and good luck in the Legislature.
Huang: Thank you.
Note: This transcript has been edited for brevity.
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