Partisan Struggles are not Checks and Balances
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 2, 2012
Summary: The biggest obstacles to Taiwan's economic development have always been
non-economic factors. This has been true for over 20 years. This is true
today. Struggles over reunification vs. independence and cross-Strait
confrontation were originally directed outward. But over time, they have
unwittingly been redirected inward. They have been internalized as
irrational Blue vs. Green struggles. This is the root cause of Taiwan's
Full Text below:
The biggest obstacles to Taiwan's economic development have always been non-economic factors. This has been true for over 20 years. This is true today. Struggles over reunification vs. independence and cross-Strait confrontation were originally directed outward. But over time, they have unwittingly been redirected inward. They have been internalized as irrational Blue vs. Green struggles. This is the root cause of Taiwan's internal hemorrhaging.
Since the January general election, society has endlessly revolved around three issues. One. U.S. beef imports. Two. The capital gains tax. Three. Gasoline and electricity rate hikes. Back and forth, on and on. Strictly speaking, these three issues are not that divisive. But the ruling and opposition parties and society as a whole have wasted at least six months arguing over them. They have sought neither consensus nor solutions. Under the circumstances, how can Taiwan progress?
Did Taiwan really have nothing more important to do during the past six months? Dealing with landslides and floods, upgrading industry, reviewing an obsolete legal system, have all been victims of long-term neglect. Every one of them is more important than these three. But the ruling and opposition parties would rather bicker over these. Consider the world as a whole. Other nations are preparing for the chain reaction triggered by the European debt crisis. But the ruling and opposition parties on Taiwan don't seem to care. They are not preparing for a rainy day. The water is already up to their knees. Yet no one cares.
During the presidential election Ma spoke of creating a "Golden Decade" on Taiwan. But three issues of only moderate importance have squandered six months of valuable time, with no end in sight. This snails pace is difficult to conceive. When can people witness the political and economic dawn promised by President Ma?
Internal bickering on Taiwan is something the public understands. The problem is different parties interpret the cause and background of the internal bickering in different ways. Personal grudges between ruling and opposition politicians make the differences even harder to resolve. Opposition began years ago, over reunification vs. independence. With democratization this opposition evolved into society-wide Blue vs. Green opposition. Society has both progressed and regressed. This progression and regression is the result of two forces: democracy and national identity. In the early years people placed a higher priority on promoting democracy than on promoting national identity. Therefore society progressed. In recent years, people have placed a higher priority on promoting national identity than on promoting democracy. As a result society has regressed.
The promotion of democracy and freedom has taken place alongside the promotion of "ethnic identity," concurrently or alternately. The dominant force was a desire to promoted progress and democracy. But this also promoted pluralism. It intensified a "Taiwanese consciousness" and a sense of "ethnic identity." The struggle between reunification and independence has hardened into Blue vs. Green social polarization. It has also deprived the public of its enthusiasm for democracy and its rationality. The passion for democratic reform has turned into an obssession with ethnic identity. This is the root of the internal bickering that has left Taiwan mired in conflict and unable to extricate himself.
Blue vs. Green confrontation has led to all sorts of distortions of democracy. For example, the opposition Pan Green parties have euphemistically characterized partisan obstructionism as "constitutional checks and balances." Green camp obstructionism has led to political and institutional paralysis. It has led to the subversion of their own ideas and proposals. Construction on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant has been repeatedly started and halted. The Kuo Kuang Petrochemical Plant was stillborn. U.S. beef imports have been repeatedly approved and disapproved. Every one of them squandered national resources and tried the industry and public patience. Political parties sacrificed Taiwan's future for their own selfish interests.
An end to such internal bickering, requires a return to rational democratic politics. This requires the ruling and opposition parties to act together. During the Two Critical Years Summit, Hong Chi-chang, former SEF Chairman for the Chen Shui-bian administration, elicited universal applause. He said: "Our political parties must not persist in opposition and confrontation. They must dialogue. They must compete and cooperate." He said, "Taiwan needs a rational, responsible and loyal opposition party. Even more, it needs a ruling party with vision, capacity to govern, and the ability to improve the people's welfare. Only this will allow Taiwan to move forward."
This is precisely right. In a healthy democracy, the relationship between the ruling and opposition parties must not be a zero-sum game. They must engage in coopetition. Only that accords with rational democracy and the national interest. Parties should rely on rationality, wisdom, and benevolence to win public support. They should not resort to whatever means possible to acquire political power. They should not disregard the nation, society, and the public interest. On Taiwan, changes in ruling parties have become the norm. An opposition party that exploits the public cannot win the public trust. A ruling party that is indolent and incompetent cannot remain in office. The public sees this clearly.
The facts cannot be denied. Internal bickering has many layers. They have political, economic, social and psychological impacts. As a result, only great patience and courage can halt this downward spiral. Over the past four years, President Ma has adopted a flexible strategy. He has adopted an inclusive attitude. He has made an heroic effort to defuse the hostility of the Democratic Progressive Party. The response has been disappointing. President Ma failed to win Pan Green camp cooperation. Instead, they have bound him hand and foot. He has even left the public with the impression that he is too weak. As a result the administration's reforms have stalled. It cannot reverse the economic decline. People feel anxious and disappointed. They have lost confidence in their own nation. President Ma must change his way of doing things. He must govern more effectively. He must ensure good governance, in order to turn the tide.
As a national leader and chairman of the ruling party, Ma Ying-jeou must overcome internal bickering. He needs courage. He must act quickly. He must not cling to his strong, silent style. If he cannot pass three bills in six months. he will become a lame duck. Then it will be too late. Then there will be no going back. The ruling party will disintegrate. The executive branch will have nothing to show for its effort. The legacy Ma aspires to will vanish into thin air.
Taiwan is in a race against time. It is in a race against itself. The ruling party must charge ahead. The opposition parties must rid themselves of their delusions about internal bickering. Only then can Taiwan emerge from its quagmire. Only then can Taiwan open itself up economically.