Pension Reform Symposia:
The Name is Irrelevant, Problem Solving is Not
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 11, 2012
Summary: In one short month, the Executive Yuan convened 120 pension reform
symposia. Recently it convened a central government level experts
symposia. Yesterday it convened the first Yuan-level symposia.
Representatives from the four largest political parties, including the
ruling party, as well military veterans, civil servants, public school
teachers, labor and capital, all gathered in one place. Each of the
groups voiced their opinions. This was an all too rare exchange of views
between the ruling and opposition parties
Full Text below:
In one short month, the Executive Yuan convened 120 pension reform symposia. Recently it convened a central government level experts symposia. Yesterday it convened the first Yuan-level symposia. Representatives from the four largest political parties, including the ruling party, as well military veterans, civil servants, public school teachers, labor and capital, all gathered in one place. Each of the groups voiced their opinions. This was an all too rare exchange of views between the ruling and opposition parties
Over 100 symposia were held. Will they enable the Ma administration to untangle the knots in the pension reform program by the end of the month? That is difficult to say. But this much is certain. There was broad participation, from the grassroots to the central government. Nearly 10,000 people took part in intense debates. The administration can now sift through the ideas proposed by the various parties and separate the wheat from the chaff. This should make possible a consensus. One thing is commendable. The blue, green, orange and yellow political parties, i.e., the KMT, DPP, PFP, NP, all sent expert representatives. They all expressed their viewpoints. DPP representative Huang Mei-ling did not speak in concrete terms. But she said the DPP would offer its own alternative to the KMT's pension reform proposal. This may be a meaningful development.
The complex pension reform problem must be resolved by the end of January. Many see this as "Mission Impossible." Forget the backlash from military veterans, civil servants, and public school teachers. Forget the tug of war with laborers and farmers who wish to retain the current system. Ruling vs. opposition party wrangling in the legislature alone will drag out the process and make any resolution difficult. This is especially true now that the DPP is rubbing its hands and preparing to take to the streets, Executive Yuan consultations will go nowhere. All the administration can do is solicit opinions from the various cities and counties, and communicate with the grassroots. We have unwittingly embarked on a new path of social dialogue. This unexpected bounty may be the result of the government vs. opposition deadlock.
This glimpse of the Big Picture should set off alarms within the DPP. One. The symposia included businesses and representatives from different parties. It amounted to an "alternative national symposium." Its scale and content was broader than the "National Policy Conference" the DPP previously demanded. Two. Representatives from various sectors fought for the opportunity to speak. Yet the largest opposition party, the Democratic Progressive Party, remained silent. This was deeply regrettable. Three. The Democratic Progressive Party persists in blindly obstructing democracy. It persists in conveying its message through outside channels. It persists in remaining silent within the institutional framework. This weakens its own role in a system of checks and balances. It may even lead to its own degeneration. Such worries are not unfounded. Consider the ruling and opposition parties in the US, wrangling over the fiscal cliff crisis. This is a clear example. The fiscal cliff was imminent. The opposition Republican Party refused to increase taxes. The Obama administration was unwilling to compromise. Their diehard attitudes offended the American people. John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, presided over the negotiations. He failed to notice the loss of support from the public and his colleagues. Eventually Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden took charge of negotiations. Only then did they arrive at an agreement. The Republicans enjoyed a majority in the House of Representatives. But Boehner stubbornly refused to admit his mistake. This led to a debacle. Was it wise? An opposition party that lacks rational leadership, is assuredly not conducive to the advancement of democracy.
Recent legislation slashed state-owned enterprise performance bonuses. This was a surprise attack launched by the TSU legislative caucus, which occupies only three seats. The KMT could do little more than offer a two month countermeasure. The DPP is preoccupied with mobilizing for its "Raging Citizens Protest March." It has failed to adopt proactive strategic thinking. It is merely playing catch up. It has forfeited its status as the largest opposition party.
The symposia opened the door to social dialogue. The government sponsored 100 pension fund reform symposia. It communicated with the people on major policy issues. This made it valuable. One. If the opposition DPP rejects democratic dialogue, or abuses its role as the loyal opposition, it will force the ruling party to appeal directly to the people in order to achieve legitimacy in its decision-making. The opposition DPP's obstructionism and non-participation could lead to self-marginalization. Two. Consider another perspective. A large-scale symposia has reached a community consensus. This seldom happens on major issues. But it required an immense effort and massive resources. This is not an economical or effective decision-making model. After all, the purpose of the constitutional framework is to allow legislators to represent different groups of people within the legislature. The purpose was an effective system of representation.
The ruling and opposition parties have yet to convene the "National Policy Conference" demanded by the DPP. But the pension reform symposia was far more representative. It was more explicitly multi-party in character. It effectively broke through the ruling vs. opposition party deadlock. The 100 symposia offered a new channel for social dialogue. It showed that the important aspect was not the name of the symposia, but problem solving. Meanwhile, back in the legislature, the machinery remains stalled.
The DPP attended, but said little. It said it would offer its own alternative for pension reform. Perhaps this was a pragmatic decision. From a partisan and democratic perspective such a change is something worth anticipating.