May 17: A Success If Concluded on May 18
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 18, 2009
The Ma/Liu government has been in office for one year. On May 17 the DPP launched a "Denounce Ma, Defend Taiwan" protest march. Green Camp supporters have felt frustrated for the past year. They eagerly took to the streets despite the hot sun. Meanwhile, the Cross-Strait Forum opened on the Mainland. Former Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Hsu Hsin-liang, who rejoined the DPP during last year's presidential election, was also in attendance. He said that the Democratic Progressive Party could denounce Ma if it wanted, but "Opposing China" was pointless. President Ma Ying-jeou, target of the denunciations, chose to go south to the Hsingchu Technology Park. He said he understood the DPP's denunciations. He hoped the march could end peacefully. The low profile, moderate demeanor of the ruling KMT contrasted sharply with the high profile, combative demeanor of the opposition DPP.
The Taipei Police Department estimated fewer than 80,000 protestors. The Democratic Progressive Party claimed up to 600,000 people. It was obviously pleased with its mobilization. Leave aside whether 600,000 or 80,000 protestors attended. The Democratic Progressive Party can not evade the fact that the approval rating of Ma Ying-jeou, the target of their denunciations, has already rebounded from its low during last year's global financial tsunami. It now stands at over 55%. On the other hand, the latest TVBS poll puts DPP chairperson Tsai Ing-wen's approval ratings at a new low of 30%.
Core support for the Democratic Progressive Party remains stuck between 30 to 45%. It has not increased in over two decades. Eight years of Chen Shui-bian administration corruption may even have caused it to shrink. The Democratic Progressive Party is pleased with itself because Ketagelan Road is packed full of people. But let's not forget that: First, this crowd was bussed in from southern and central Taiwan. Secondly, this crowd represents the hard core of the Democratic Progressive Party's shrinking support. Thirdly, and most importantly, this crowd consists of Democratic Progressive Party True Believers. They cannot help the Democratic Progressive Party return to power.
The Democratic Progressive Party denounced the Ma administration for "selling out Taiwan." How exactly is Ma supposed to have sold Taiwan out? Director of Health Yeh Chin-chuan is in Geneva preparing to attend the WHO Conference. The Democratic Progressive Party complained that the official WHA website shows Taiwan as a province of China. Yeh Chin-chuan angrily shot back, "That happened in 2005. That was the handiwork of the incompetent Chen Shui-bian administration. Don't blame that on me!" Increasing the Republic of China's breathing room should transcend Blue and Green. It should be something upon which both camps agree. We have many different ways to go about it. The results may also be very different. The Republic of China has found a way to make contact with the international community. The only problem is the Democratic Progressive Party is unwilling to face up to it. They left a mess. Now the Ma administration must clean it up.
The Democratic Progressive Party has its own rationale vis a vis Beijing. When President Chen Shui-bian ran for president, he touted his "New Centrist Path." Unfortunately, despite eight years in power, Taiwan independence forces have left the party in a mess. Even though it is now in the opposition, it remains bound hand and foot. Former Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Hsu Hsin-liang denounced Ma Ying-jeou but also has dealings with the Mainland. Hsu has proposed "Boldly Going West." Some Democratic Progressive Party members have underground channels to Beijing, Shanghai, or Xiamen, But officially they must denounce deals with the mainland as "selling out Taiwan." Former Premier Frank Hsieh was also former Mayor of Kaohsiung. He had a chance to visit the mainland. But Chen Shui-bian stopped him dead in his tracks. On the eve of the May 17 "Denounce Ma" protest march, Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu publicly confirmed that she would visit Beijing on May 21. This time, she will not be so unlucky as to encounter a president and party chairman who will forbid her from making the trip.
The two sides have carried on normal exchanges for years. Political and ideological interference aside, neither the Blue nor Green camps have "sold out Taiwan." This past year, the Ma administration has relaxed cross-Strait policy. But in fact, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party was unable to interrupt cross-strait exchanges during its eight years in office. The more tightly the government controled official exchanges, the closer non-governmental exchanges became. Increased cross-Strait relations are an irreversible trend. How can fanatical Democratic Progressive Party protests prevent them? Put bluntly, even pro-Taiwan independence businesses need the mainland market.
The Democratic Progressive Party may be satisfied with its 30% share of public support. But those in power cannot ignore the increasing rigid 30% Green Camp core support. We conducted a poll on the first anniversary of the Ma administration. Satisfaction with the Ma administration on cross-Strait policy and the outcome of recent consultations has risen significantly. It now exceeds 50%. Have these initiatives have put the sovereignty of the Republic of China at risk? The number that thinks so has also significantly increased. It now stands at 30%. The DPP cannot return to power based on the support of 30% of the electorate. But the 30% of the electorate denouncing Ma and opposing Beijing can polarize society. That may be why the Ma/Liu government's response to the May 17 protest march was so low keyed and moderate.
Taiwan has been politically liberalized for over 20 years. Social polarization reached its zenith under the Chen Shui-bian administration's eight years in office. The wounds inflicted on society by such divisions obviously cannot be healed overnight. As Premier Liu Chao-hsuan said, "Having different opinions is not a bad thing. Only this can force the government to watch its every step." Social consensus is also established step-by-step. The May 17 protest march should be seen as normal for a democracy. The success of May 17 should not measured by its numbers. It should be measured by whether it ends peacefully on May 18. Only such a result can rebuild public confidence in the Democratic Progressive Party.