Chen's arms budget gets blocked yet again
Jacky Hsu in Taipei
Taiwan's opposition also rejects two other key motions to frustrate president
The Taiwanese government took a beating yesterday when the opposition-dominated legislature again voted down three controversial motions, including a proposed budget for US arms purchases and the voting threshold for constitutional amendments.
Despite efforts by President Chen Shui-bian to ally with People First Party (PFP) chairman James Soong Chu-yu, PFP lawmakers still chose to side with their counterparts from the larger opposition Kuomintang in blocking the government motions.
The opposition's show of strength blocked the NT$480 billion ($120 billion) US arms procurement budget proposed by the Defence Ministry from being put on the legislature's agenda, as well as a motion calling for legislators to agree to a list of appointees named by Mr Chen for the Control Yuan, the government's watchdog.
'We have long told the Defence Ministry to separate the three types of weapons [in the arms deal], but they wouldn't listen,' said Lee Yung-ping, the PFP's legislative caucus head.
She said the opposition had already rejected the list of Control Yuan members appointed by Mr Chen last year because of qualification and personality problems, but the president continued to send it in for approval.
As yesterday was the final day for the procedure committee to meet, the chance of the motions being passed in the present legislative session will be zero unless legislators hold an extraordinary session in the summer. The current session ends next Tuesday.
Faced with an opposition-dominated legislature and pressure from Washington, the beleaguered Chen government has been trying in vain since late 2003 to have the arms budget passed.
Defence Ministry spokesman Liu Chih-chien yesterday said the US had already issued an ultimatum demanding the ministry make a decision before the end of this month on its plan to buy 12 P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft.
Opposition legislators have claimed the proposed budget to buy eight diesel-electric submarines, six Patriot PAC-3 anti-missile batteries and 12 Orions is still far higher than the market price, even though the ministry has cut the amount to NT$480 billion from NT$610.8 billion.
KMT legislator Shuai Hua-min, a former general, said both the KMT and PFP supported strong defensive capabilities, but weapons purchases had to be reasonable.
Meanwhile, opposition lawmakers, including independents and members of the Taiwan Solidarity Union, an informal ally of the DPP, yesterday voted against a motion submitted to the legislature by the Presidential Office, urging it to reconsider a bill that established a 75 per cent threshold for National Assembly deputies to endorse a package of constitutional amendments.