The eighth legislature has now been in session for a month. In some respects it has been a breath of fresh air, but in others it has fallen short of public expectations.
Let us first take a look at the more positive aspects. Not long after the session began, legislators from different parties held two joint press conferences where they spoke up for the conservation of wetlands and forests.
This was praised by the public, largely because it showed that the legislature does not have to be an arena solely for partisan infighting.
Most of the participants in the two press conferences were legislators-at-large, a testament to the efficacy of the legislator-at-large system, which is designed to force parties to consider how best to represent different sectors of society when making their nominations.
Doing so should provide guarantees of political participation for women and disadvantaged groups, and give academics and experts the opportunity to participate in the legislative process, thus elevating the quality of legislation.
Looking back at the elections for the seventh legislature in 2008, legislators-at-large were criticized as tools of factional compromise and patronage, and only a few made any effort to act in accordance with public opinion. In contrast, the legislator-at-large nominations for the elections on Jan. 14 included several representatives from disadvantaged groups and non-profit organizations.
At the time, the parties nominating these candidates received praise and perhaps a substantial number of additional votes. Now, however, is the time to see whether these legislators-at-large really are expressing what the public feels.
Regrettably, several of the individuals who were so well received by the public during the election campaign have more recently declined to declare their views on such major issues as whether a zero-tolerance policy should be applied to leanness-enhancing feed additive residue in imported beef.
Others have called press conferences to defend their positions, but only succeeded in raising questions about potential abuses of power. Many of the legislators-at-large who were originally seen as improving the image of their party are now being ridiculed and called “the shame of NGOs.”
Furthermore, legislators-at-large are under no pressure from legislative constituencies, and are therefore in a better position to serve as “public mouthpieces.” This is also the reason why legislators-at-large should display moral strength, courage and independence in their political activities. If they fail to do so, then we could nominate representatives of disadvantaged groups, experts and academics to every single legislative seat and it would still make no difference.
It is time our legislators-at-large began to earn their keep.
Ku Chung-hwa is chairman of Citizen’s Congress Watch.
Translated by Perry Svensson