Taiwan Parliament Speaker Fights Ruling Party on His Ouster

Taiwan’s parliament speaker challenged his expulsion from the ruling party over influence-peddling claims, complicating President Ma Ying-jeou’s bid to focus attention on policy after a series of scandals.

Wang Jin-pyng, 72, sought an injunction from the Taipei District Court after the Kuomintang Party expelled him yesterday. The court will hear arguments on whether to freeze the process today, said Lai Chien-yi, divisional chief judge at the court.

The court proceeding may bog Ma down in another protracted conflict after at least five cabinet-level officials resigned this year. The president, battling record-low approval ratings, had pressed for Wang’s ouster as he seeks to jumpstart his stalled policy agenda, which includes finishing a nuclear power plant and lowering trade barriers with China.

Any “severe conflict” that develops between Ma and parliament, where Wang held sway and had acceded to opposition demands to scrutinize some policies, could affect the island’s economy, said Eric Hsing, a trader at First Securities Inc. said by phone in Taipei. “Some important bills affecting Taiwan’s economic infrastructure including the service pact may not pass.”

Taiwan’s benchmark Taiex index gained 0.2 percent to close at 8,225.36 today. Ma is seeking to strengthen the Taiwan economy, which expanded 1.32 percent in 2012 at the slowest pace in three years and lagging the growth of neighboring economies such as the Philippines and Indonesia.

Opposition Demands

China Politburo member Yu Zhengsheng told Taiwan negotiators today the two sides should seal their economic agreements soon, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. A pact signed this year lowering barriers for services sectors such as banking and brokerages is beneficial to Taiwan, Yu said. Wang agreed to opposition party demands for a detailed review and examination of the pact days after it was signed between cross-strait negotiators.

A Kuomintang disciplinary committee ruled yesterday that the speaker, whom Ma beat out for the party chairmanship in 2005, damaged the party’s reputation when he tried to stop a prosecution case against another lawmaker and revoked his membership. Wang denied the allegations, saying in a statement to the party yesterday that he called justice officials to remind them not to abuse the appeals process.

Phone Tapped

In late June, Wang was recorded on a tapped mobile phone line telling opposition Democratic Progressive Party whip Ker Chien-ming that prosecutors wouldn’t appeal his not-guilty verdict, according to a Supreme Prosecutors Office statement on Sept. 6. Ker had been accused of breach of trust in a commercial case.

Transcripts released by investigators show the speaker had told Ker the appeal was dropped after intervention from then Justice Minister Tseng Yung-fu. Tseng resigned on Sept. 6 without admitting wrongdoing.

The speaker, who had held the position since 1999, apologized for “creating this situation” and said he would pursue ways to try and stay in the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, according to comments carried on television network CtiTV.

It wasn’t immediately clear who would replace Wang. Candidates for speaker need the support of one-third of lawmakers to be nominated, and two-thirds of those present to be elected. Hung Hsiu-chu, deputy legislative speaker, will be acting speaker, according to parliamentary rules.

Series of Departures

Wang’s is the latest in a series of Ma-government departures. Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu stepped down last month following criticism over the military’s handling of the death of an army conscript. His successor, Andrew Yang, resigned just six days after taking office amid allegations of plagiarism.

Premier Sean Chen resigned in January for family and health reasons following opposition demands that he be held accountable for the economy’s slow growth. Expansion lagged growth in the Philippines and Indonesia, both of which expanded by more than 6 percent last year.

“I have no choice but to take a stand,” Ma said of Wang’s case at a conference broadcast live by Taiwan television networks. He said Wang’s disregard for judicial independence is unacceptable.

Besides trade with China, Ma’s administration has sought a popular vote on the fate of an almost-completed fourth nuclear power plant that has cost $8.9 billion so far. Tens of thousands of people protested in March against using nuclear power, which accounts for one-fifth of the island’s energy supply.

New Low

Ma’s approval rating hit a new record low of 11 percent, according to a survey conducted by cable network TVBS this month. Wang’s removal may backfire for Ma, according to Liao I-ming, a professor of government and law at National University of Kaohsiung.

“Ma was trying to win the public over by showing strength, integrity and wielding a large stick in his pledge to reform,” Liao said. “The biggest victim in all of this is Ma as a large swath of people including his enemies will strike back.”

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