Monday, February 8, 2010

A Ruling and Opposition Party Summit Can Be More than Political Gamesmanship

A Ruling and Opposition Party Summit Can Be More than Political Gamesmanship
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
February 8, 2010

Former Vice President Annette is the founder of the Jade Mountain Weekly. Yesterday she interviewed President Ma Ying-jeou at the Presidential Palace. The two engaged in a number of ascerbic exchanges. Afterwards Annette Lu appeared on a TV talk show. She revealed that she had posed the very same questions to former President Chen Shui-bian.
Annette Lu referred to this dialogue as a "Ruling and Opposition Leaders National Policy Debate." Next week's issue of Jade Mountain Weekly may well be characterized as a "Virtual Debate between Ma and Chen on National Policy." Call it a dialogue. Call it a debate. The person Ma Ying-jeou most needs to dialogue with or debate is DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen. It is not Annette Lu. Even less is it Chen Shui-bian.

The Ma administration has been in office for one year and eight months. Pundits have repeatedly stressed the need for direct communications between the ruling and opposition parties. But they have never been able to bring about a meeting between the "two Yings," i.e., Ma Ying-jeou and Tsai Ing-wen. According to Annette Lu, Ma has already made it known that he has agreed to such a meeting. Tsai has already acknowledged receipt of Ma's invitation. The very next day however, Tsai Ing-wen announced that while the DPP did not oppose communications between the ruling and opposition parties, "The important thing is that we need to know that the KMT is sincere. Communications must be over substantive issues. If the meeting is merely for the sake of political gamesmanship, there is no really no need."

Tsai Ing-wen's remark is nothing new. In 2008, the DPP lost the presidential election. Morale hit bottom. In the 2009 legislative by-election it scored a victory. Pundits called for a meeting between the "two Yings." A national policy dialogue between ruling and opposition leaders would be beneficial to political development and social harmony. Which party has or lacks political momentum would not be an issue. But Tsai Ing-wen refused to say anything other than "If the meeting is merely for the sake of political gamesmanship, there is no really no need." Ma Ying-jeou repeatedly offered Tsai Ing-wen both verbal and written invitations, but Tsai slammed the door in his face.

Tsai Ing-wen cited "political gamesmanship" as her reason to turn down the president's invitations. She did so with little hesitation. Anyone familiar with politicians' political calculations, knows that "political gamesmanship" is one of the most basic skills of the professional politician. But Tsai Ing-wen ignored a simple fact. Ma Ying-jeou is the one politician for whom this charge simply does not stick. Ma Ying-jeou is widely known as the one person least adept at political gamesmanship. He has been in office one year and eight months. His approval rating has hit rock bottom. Some pundits are even accusing him of "incompetence," largely because he lacks political finesse and is woefully inept at political gamesmanship.

During the Lee Teng-hui era, Huang Hsin-chieh, Shih Ming-teh, Hsu Hsin-liang, and newcomer Chen Shui-bian were all President Lee Teng-hui's guests of honor. The Democratic Progressive Party had just been reborn from the "dang wai" (party outsider) movement. The circumstances were favorable to the party. But its substantive strength was still considerably less than the KMT's. None of the Democratic Progressive Party leaders at the time criticized President Lee of poltical gamesmanship. None of them turned down his invitations. When Chen Shui-bian was in office, he urged opposition leaders to communicate with him. At the time the KMT and PFP had enough legislative seats to impeach Chen. Yet neither the chairmen of the two parties, Lien Chan and James Soong, refused to dialogue with the government. On the contrary. It was Chen Shui-bian who engaged in out of the blue political gamesmanship when he met with Lien Chan and James Soong. First he met with Lien Chan. No sooner had Lien Chan left the presidential palace, than the Executive Yuan announced that it was halting work on the Number Four Nuclear Plant. This led to a series of political repercussions. Lien Chan was no longer willing to meet with Chen. Nevertheless James Soong was still willing to participate in a secret meeting with Chen Shui-bian. Again the one who resorted to political gamesmanship was Chen Shui-bian. First he met with Soong. Then he spread rumors of a "Secret Soong Chen Meeting" between Soong and Mainland official Chen Yunlin.

Lien Chan and James Soong's experiences with ruling and opposition party "communications" have less than pleasant, thanks to Chen Shui-bian and the DPP. Is Tsai Ing-wen concerned that Ma Ying-jeou will engage in the same political gamesmanship that the DPP and Chen Shui-bian engaged in with Lien Chan and James Soong? If so, Tsai Ing-wen's concerns are misplaced. If Ma Ying-jeou had a tenth of Chen Shui-bian's skill at political gamesmanship, he would not be in his current predicament.

If Tsai Ing-wen's objection is that "communications must be over substantive issues," that is another matter. After all, dialogue between political leaders is not idle chatter. Before ruling and opposition party leaders engage in dialogue, they must make careful preparations. The two parties differ on a number of policies, particularly cross-Strait policy. No dialogue can avoid these issues. Therefore the two sides must consider how to allow compromise and concessions. Only then is a dialogue possible. Only then can "substantive issues" be dealt with. Such a goal may appear difficult. But it is not that difficult. Take a random example. Former Democratic Progressive Party Chairman Lin I-hsiung was determined to amend the laws, lowering the threshold for public referendums. Would Tsai Ing-wen refuse to allow this party elder to visit the presidential palace? Take another example. Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-pyng and SEF Chairman Chiang Pin-kung believe the legislature should set up a cross-Strait affairs group. Ma Ying-jeou has so far refused to comment. Would Tsai Ing-wen refuse to meet with Ma in order to get the ball rolling? Years ago the KMT proposed setting up a cross-Strait affairs group. At the time DPP presidential office and executive branch leaders were the ones who stonewalled. Could that be why Tsai Ing-wen is embarrassed to broach the issue?

The Ma administration has been in office for one year and eight months. Ma Ying-jeou is no longer a leader who commands the support of over 70% of the public. Tsai Ing-wen is no longer the Democratic Progressive Party savior who cleaned up the mess left by Chen Shui-bian. A "two Yings" meeting would not benefit either leader at the expense of the other. It would merely benefit the Republic of China. It would merely give a little consideration to its many problems. Tsai Ing-wen must have the courage to transcend the DPP's usual political calculations and mindset. Only then can she emerge from under the shadow of the party's "Princes." Only then can she transform herself into a leader worthy of leading the nation.

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