The TPP in The Legislative Yuan: Controversies, Challenges and Future

Written by Chengyu Yang.

Image credit: 蔡壁如/ Facebook.

Despite having only five seats in the Legislative Yuan, the TPP legislators have done a relatively impressive job in the 2022 legislative sessions. For example, in the fifth session of the 10th Appointed Date in the first half of 2022, according to public data provided by the Legislative Yuan, TPP legislators introduced 105 bills, most of which were introduced by party caucus, and individual legislators introduced only two cases. Furthermore, in the fifth session, the Citizen’s Congress Watch (CCW, 公民監督國會聯盟), a third-party watchdog in Taiwan, announced that among the 24 outstanding legislators elected to the Legislative Yuan in the tenth session, 19 were from the DPP, four from the TPP and one from the NPP. With such results, what kind of 2023 will the TPP legislators face? How should the TPP handle the relationship between the party’s affairs and legislators? And how will the TPP set the election goal for the Legislative Yuan election in 2024? These are all questions that deserve our attention.

TPP Legislators in 2022: Controversies Around Public Funds

In 2022, against the backdrop of the nine-in-one election, controversies surrounding legislators continued to rage. For example, former TPP legislator Ann Kao, who was successfully elected as mayor of Hsinchu City, has been questioned from various quarters in her mayor’s race, ranging from academic questions about “plagiarism gate” in her PhD thesis to professional questions about the fraudulent use of funds from public funds for party affairs. Although Ann Kao responded that most of these allegations were false and untrue, her questions about the funding of her assistants eventually led the Taiwan prosecutors to set up a task force to investigate the matter.

This is not the first time that the issue of the relationship between the TPP and Public Funds has been the subject of heated debate among the Taiwanese public and in Taiwan’s political arena. Another issue that has been criticised is the ambiguous line between party affairs and the TPP Legislative Yuan caucus. Firstly, some criticised TPP’s use of the TPP caucus office space for party affairs to pay for the utilities generated by TPP’s party work with taxpayers’ money. Secondly, in the wake of Kao’s “assistant fund-gate”, some TPP insiders pointed out that the TPP requires each legislator to assign a publicly funded assistant to the caucus. However, as a common practice, parliamentary caucuses and legislators’ offices are independent of each other in terms of personnel and funding.

As a political party less than five years old, the TPP’s controversial use of public funds for party affairs and campaigning on the grounds of limited funds is not only found in the Legislative Yuan. For example, in early 2022, former Taipei City Mayor Ko’s city government team was questioned for using city funds to publish a book promoting TPP-backed unaffiliated Taipei City Mayor candidate Vivian Huang.

Some have believed that although the TPP’s actions would most of the time hardly be considered a criminal offence through some pretensions, the controversy over the attempted misappropriation of public funds in grey areas would have a more negative impact on the public image of the TPP than if the mainstream parties had faced such questions. This is partly because the TPP is smaller and has less capacity to calm things down in the face of allegations. Secondly, from its inception, the TPP distinguished itself from the DPP and KMT by portraying itself as a professional party with zero tolerance for corruption and “black-gold politics”. The taint of corruption is potentially fatal to the TPP.

Apart from the controversy surrounding the misappropriation of public funds, another noteworthy aspect of the social debate surrounding TPP legislators in 2022 is that many of the scandals have been exposed by senior staff who have worked for the TPP Legislature’s caucus or legislators. For example, Lin Shu-Hui, the head of TPP Legislator Lai Hsiang-ling’s office and the “internal TPP whistleblower” exposed Ann Kao’s fraudulent assistant fees. Brian Hioe argued in an analysis that “it might not be surprising to see splits between Ko and the TPP’s legislators, who may be incentivised to attack Ko to distinguish themselves from him and preserve their independence of Ko if his political fortunes decline”.

Therefore, in the future, the TPP needs to strike a better balance between legislators and party affairs and offer legislators more space to operate. Without such balance, internal disagreements caused by the overpowering party centre (under Ko) will likely lead to more senior party members challenging Ko and harming the TPP. Some TPP members have also called on Ko through the media to think about the future development and legacy of the TPP and to let go of the party as soon as possible so that the TPP can develop healthily.

TPP Legislators in 2023: More Challenges?

Since the start of the 2022 local elections campaign, there have been significant changes in TPP personnel both in the Legislative Yuan and at the local level. From Ko’s key ally Tsai Pi-Ru’s resignation as a legislator due to a plagiarism scandal to former legislator Ann Kao’s appointment as mayor of Hsinchu amidst controversy: the new personnel structure has also necessitated a new strategy for the TPP to further coordinate the collaboration of all levels of staff.

The first challenge for legislators is strengthening cooperation between the central and local levels after Ko stepped down as the Mayor of Taipei. This is especially true for the TPP’s overall strategy to enhance the operation of grassroots organisations in 2023. A well-coordinated Legislative Yuan caucus will be good news for those TPP members who are grounded at the local level. For example, the party caucus can help promote the progress of major local projects in the Legislative Yuan. Moreover, when local development encounters excessive regulations from the central government, legislators can improve and amend bills to remove obstacles. In other words, the “centre-local-party branch” triangle will further enhance the visibility of the TPP in people’s daily lives and the quality of local constituency services.

The TPP demonstrated its commitment to central-local cooperation to the public as soon as the local elections were over. On 5 December 2022, four TPP-winning city councillors in Taipei and one councillor in New Taipei City, led by TPP Taipei Party Chief Lin Guocheng, paid a visit to the TPP’s Legislative Yuan caucus. TPP legislator Chyi-Lu Jang bluntly stated that simply offering an ideological “alternative to blue and green” would not generate enough votes for the TPP in 2024. Only if the party takes grassroots at the local level will it be able to face the national elections in 2024. On this premise, support from the legislature will better help local legislators and the public to establish a close social relationship.

Another challenge for the TPP in the Legislative Yuan is the change in the personnel of the non-district legislators. After the 2022 local elections, the TPP has two new legislators in the Legislative Yuan who have been replaced. One is Cynthia Wu, vice president of Shin Kong Life Insurance, a leading life insurance company in Taiwan, and the other is Carol Chen, a former social activist and unsuccessful candidate for Yilan County Commissioner. How they would adapt to their new roles is worthy of attention.

Not only do Wu and Chen differ in their life experiences and social backgrounds, but they also have different strategies for taking office as legislators. Born into a family of entrepreneurs, Wu fits the public perception of the elite class in Taiwan. After her early years in the US and UK, she worked as a journalist, election research assistant and investment analyst before returning to work for her family’s business. When she became a legislator, she focused on the issue of narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor in Taiwan.

As a social activist, Chen, on the other hand, has been more grounded in the post-election strategy of the legislators. After losing the election for Yilan County Governor, she set up her own service office in Yilan County. She emphasises that she will stay rooted in Yilan County in the future and continue to focus on local issues in Yilan, such as geothermal energy and the extension of high-speed rail. This strategy follows the TPP’s future strategic plan and suggests that Chen will likely run for the regional seat in 2024.

2024 Election: The Fat Chance to Achieve the “Key Minority”?

In the first national election after the TPP’s founding in 2019, one of Ko’s key goals for the legislative elections was to create a situation where ‘no mainstream parties reach the majority’ in the Legislative Yuan. In other words, he wanted to make the TPP the key minority party in the Legislative Yuan: a bill could only be passed if the issue had the support of one or smaller challenger parties. This concept is not the first to be proposed in Taiwan. Fan Yun, the then convenor of the Social Democratic Party, proposed this concept back in the run-up to the 2016 national election, arguing that the political status quo of blue-green viciousness in Taiwan would only gradually turn into a healthy competition when the KMT and the TPP realised that they had to compromise with more progressive third-party parties and compete more actively with them for leadership of the agenda.

However, the reality is that the TPP seems to be moving further away from such a goal. This is mainly due to two reasons. First, the TPP’s current rooting strategy is a relatively long-term plan that is doubtful to substantially help the 2024 legislature elections. This is because managing grassroots relations is time-consuming, and the results will be challenging to demonstrate in just one year.

Secondly, Ko’s presidential campaign in 2024 is likely to be a double-edged sword for the TPP legislators; Ko’s presidential campaign is expected to benefit the TPP’s legislative candidates, but an overly strong party president with declining support could invite more party challengers and eventually even infighting and defections. But, again, the NPP’s example shows us that infighting and defections are likely dangerous for the smaller challenger party.

This means that if the TPP still wants to achieve the goal of “No mainstream parties reach the majority” by 2024, it will need to seek not only more cooperation with other smaller challenger parties but also more balance is needed between legislators and parties affairs.

Mr Chengyu Yang is the Project Officer of the Centre of Taiwan Studies of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. His current research interests are on the popular religions, commodities and human mobilities of Taiwan’s offshore islands (Kinmen and Matsu) in the post-military-civil administration period.

This article was published as part of a special issue on ‘Farewell 2022 and Welcome 2023’.

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