Different Time, Different Place: But One Still Needs a Platform
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 28, 2011
Summary: An expression has become all the rage: "Different time, different place." This expression has practically become DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen's mantra. Apparently she finds it pretty handy. The political scene on Taiwan has undergone significant change. It has experienced two changes in ruling parties. Both the ruling Blues and the opposition Greens have been in office before. Neither can eradicate the record of the road they once traveled. Government and opposition leaders may try to rationalize their past policies by saying, "different time, different place." But we must subject them to harsh scrutiny. We must ask them, are the time and place really so different?
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An expression has become all the rage: "Different time, different place." This expression has practically become DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen's mantra, Apparently she finds it pretty handy. The political scene on Taiwan has undergone significant change. It has experienced two changes in ruling parties. Both the ruling Blues and the opposition Greens have been in office before. Neither can eradicate the record of the road they once traveled. Government and opposition leaders may attempt to rationalize their past policies by saying, "different time, different place." But we must subject them to harsh scrutiny. We must ask them, are the time and place really so different?
Consider the subsidies for elderly farmers. The DPP approved an increase from 6000 NT to 7000 NT. The Ma administration followed suit. It refused to let this become and election season trump card for the DPP. But this plank in the DPP campaign platform is an elephant in the living room. When the DPP was in office, Vice Premier Tsai Ing-wen firmly opposed this subsidy increase.
The Chen administration cited any number of reasons for opposing the subsidy increase. One was that the government was in fiscal straits. The DPP was placing emphasis on the National Pension System. Under the National Pension System, additional allowances would be incorporated into the system as a whole. Unfortunately, neither the Democratic Progressive Party administration, nor the Ma administration made proper plans. Both failed to fully implement the program. Now that the general election is around the corner, both are attempting to curry favor with voters by offering cash bribes.
The Ma administration's problem is that after three years in office, it has yet to fully implement the policy. The DPP continues to force the KMT to up the ante. Tsai Ing-wen's problem is that she opposed the increase then, but favors it now. Her excuse is, "different time, different place." But are conditions really that different from three to five years ago? The government is still in dire fiscal straits. The National Pension Plan has been implemented. Why is it necessary to increase subsidies for elderly farmers, when they should have been incorporated into the National Pension Plan long ago? Consider agricultural policy. During its eight years in office, the Chen administration opened the market to Mainland agricultural products. It attempted to abolish the Agricultural Cooperative Credit Department. Farmers protested in front of the presidential palace, on a scale far larger than today. Yet Tsai Ing-wen is attempting to shirk responsibility for the Chen administration's policy, with an airy "different time, different place." She even had the chutzpah to visit the grassroots and gladhand the protesting farmers.
This is hardly the first time Tsai Ing-wen has fallen back on a "different time, different place." Last year the DPP lambasted the Ma administration for providing government subsidies to Mainland students. But it soon became clear that this policy was a legacy from the Lee Teng-hui era. The subsidies provided by the Chen administration during a single year, far exceeded the subsidies provided by the Ma administration over two years. Tsai Ing-wen's excuse was, yet again, "different time, different place." This was even more incomprehensible. During the Ma era cross-Strait exchanges were more frequent than during the Lee era and Chen era. How can the Ma administration be criticized for tightening controls?
Consider another example, Tsai Ing-wen blasted the Ma administration over rice wine price cuts. She said "A lot of people do not see this as a major achievement." This is even more bizarre. During the Chen era, Taipei was trying to join the WTO. Tsai Ing-wen's chief negotiator argued, "Our government began negotiations on rice wine prices only after the dispute settlement panel arrived at its decision on Japanese shochu prices. Negotiations took place after the WTO emphasized legal discipline. Legally, we had very little room to maneuver." She even argued that given high living standards on Taiwan, we could afford to buy slightly more expensive wine, that we had no need to dwell on rice wine prices. Given her desertion in the face of fire at the front, was it really necessary to hold the line at the rear?
Tsai Ing-wen could not bring down rice wine prices. The Ma administration could. Taipei was a WTO Member State. Yet the Ma administration could do something the DPP administration could not. It could get different tax rates for cooking wine and drinking wine. If this is not a major political achievement, what is? Such incidents are not confined to rice wine. Let us not forget how the DPP administration agreed to open the market to US beef imports. It even agreed to forsake Taiwan standards for Ractopamine and Clenbuterol in meat inspections. This matter was never satisfactorily resolved. The repercussions are still being felt in Taipei/Washington relations. But the Ma administration has refused to make concessions or to give up. It fights on.
Tsai Ing-wen is DPP chairman. She is competing for the highest office in the land. Before Tsai Ing-wen trots out specific policy proposals, she would do well to review the road she has already traveled. She was a member of the National Security Commission under Lee Teng-hui. She was MAC Chairman and Vice Premier under Chen Shui-bian, Many of her policies remain in force, even today. Many policies still bear her imprint. They are not something a simple "different time, different place" can erase from our collective memory.
She opposes the 18% preferential interest rate for retired civil servants. But upon leaving office, she continued to collect her 18% preferential interest rate payments, and to deposit them in her personal bank account. That is one of the more striking examples. When she was vice premier she pressured EIA officials to approve the Taichung Science Park Project during Phase Three environmental impact assessment. That is another striking example. Tsai Ing-wen may have erased these incidents from her memory. But during the election process, they will inevitably resurface, again and again. There is nothing unfair about this. Just the opposite. This is precisely how candidates must be evaluated. They must undergo rigorous examination. Anything less is an injustice to ROC voters.
Politics may be characterized as clever rhetoric, able to deceive people in the near term. But politics can never erase words uttered in the past. In the process of winning votes, politicians must speak the truth. They must grant voters a modicum of respect. They must not assume that everyone has a short memory, and can easily be fooled. They must be responsible for their words and deeds. They must be responsible to the people. Anyone aspiring to the office of the president must meet these conditions. Why else is the opposition DPP reminding voters that President Ma reneged on his "6/3/3" campaign pledge? Why can't Ma simply say "different time, different place?"