If the Mountain Won't Come to Ma, Ma Must Go to the Mountain
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 19, 2009
This weekend the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) will hold a "People's Conference on National Affairs." DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen extended an invitation to President Ma Ying-jeou, and helpfully added, "If President Ma doesn't attend, then he is refusing to listen to the voice of the people." "If the Ma administration refuses to listen to the voice of the people, then it will be difficult to prevent the people from taking to the streets."
Chairman Tsai's declaration was a tad domineering in its tone. It even carried a veiled threat. Whether the conference will even achieve its expected goals remains in doubt. Nevertheless since the DPP has already offered him an invitation, President Ma may as well accept, demonstrating the magnanimity of a national leader.
Nineteen years ago, Lee Teng-hui responsed to public calls for reform. He wanted to use public opinion against conservative forces within the KMT. That led him to hold the first of such conferences. At the time, the DPP underwent heated internal debates on whether to participate. Huang Hsin-chieh and other moderates agreed to take part. Chiou I-jen and others who believed in working outside the system vehemently refused.
The ruling and opposition party members taking part in the Conference on National Affairs that year had different long term goals. But because they shared a common premise, they transformed the conference into an engine for democratic reform. They facilitated the direct election of the president and other major constitutional reforms.
Although his successor President Chen Shui-bian never convened a Conference on National Affairs, during his term of office he sponsored two National Finance Conferences, with the intention of imitating Lee Teng-hui. Responding to calls for him to rescue the economy, he invited ruling and opposition party leaders. But Chen Shui-bian betrayed the people's expectations. Neither National Finance Conference yielded any results. Cross-strait direct links and other major resolutions were shelved for eight years. They were realized only after the Ma Ying-jeou administration took over. The Second Financial Reform Program was a giant mess, left behind by the Chen administration.
Two former presidents held large scale Conferences on National Affairs. Evaluations of their worth have varied since they were first held. People differ on whether such political rituals as Conferences on National Affairs have any practical function. But the Republic of China now finds itself in a social and economic bind seldom seen in a hundred years. The public wants the ruling and opposition parties to work together, more urgently than ever. We recommend that President Ma attend the Conference on National Affairs, for the following five reasons.
One. The so-called People's Conference on National Affairs, is something ruling KMT leaders should have organized. They should have reached out to opposition parties. But since the DPP has already taken the initiative to hold such a conference, and to extend an open invitation to President Ma Ying-jeou, he might as well take advantage of it and attend. The conference would then be upgraded and integrated into the nation's political institutions. He would avoid giving offense and becoming a laughing stock. By listening to the people he would also display the magnanimity appropriate for a head of state.
Two. When Lee Teng-hui convened his Conference on National Affairs he needed outside assistance. He need people such as the DPP's Tsai Ing-wen, who wants to effect reforms. Lee Teng-hui was not afraid the Democratic Progressive Party would gain political status as a result of the Conference on National Affairs. Ma Ying-jeou has the support of a supermajority in the legislature. He need not worry that attending an event organized by Tsai Ing-wen will increase her power and prestige. President Ma should actively help the moderates within the Democratic Progressive Party. He should allow them to emerge from the shadows of the past, and to take a more moderate path.
Three. Since Chairperson Tsai has invited President President Ma to the event, he is the guest. She must therefore treat him as the president. She may not allow him to be treated disrespectfully or to be embarrassed. To do so would amount to a serious breach of etiquette, and she would find it hard to escape severe public condemnation.
Four. President Ma has never been much of a communicator. Whether the communication is intraparty or interparty, his record has been nothing to boast about. He has repeatedly invited Chairperson Tsai to the Presidential Palace to exchange views, to hold a "Two Yings Conference." But he always left the impression he was being condescending. Today, the mountain will not come to Ma. Therefore Ma must go to the mountain. He should personally attend the Conference on National Affairs. If Chairman Tsai refuses to open channels of communication with him, she will be the one to lose popular support.
Five. The government has prepared a number of programs to rescue the economy. But not one of them involved consultation with other parties. This Conference on National Affairs adresses financial and economic issues. Both the DPP and Taiwan Solidarity Union are political parties within the system. If President Ma takes part in the Conference on National Affairs, the event will be seen as something contained within the system. It will reinforce the notion that the conclusions of the conference should be dealt with within the system. It may remedy many of the shortcomings in interparty programs intended to rescue the economy.
Entering an opposition party's conference is not that difficult. Reaching out to one's opponents in good faith is not that embarrassing. Listening to voices critical of oneself is not that distressing. President Ma should perceive the invitation as a rare opportunity, and calmly attend. Because when an opposition party invites the president to take part in a People's Conference on National Affairs President Ma can respond from his exalted position as head of state. If the mountain will not come to Ma, then Ma must go to the mountain.
2009.02.19 04:04 am