The Two Yings Should Hold No Less than Four Debates
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 29, 2011
Ma spokesman Yin Wei has challenged the DPP to a debate on ECFA. Tsai Ing-wen said "Many people want to debate Ma. Let private citizens debate him first."
Yin Wei's move was of course tactical, But the fact that he could provoke Tsai Ing-wen into such a response, is already a victory. Tsai Ing-wen should have said that once the election had began in earnest, she would debate Ma in depth. Recently she expressed "a willingness to sit down with [Mainland] China and discuss a sustainable framework for cross-Strait interaction." But now she wants the Ma campaign to debate private citizens. Tsai is clearly hedging her bets, both left and right. Yin Wei's tactical move flushed Tsai Ing-wen from her cover. It highlighted Tsai's evasiveness and her cowardice behind her bravado. Tsai continues to refuse to debate. The public is unlikely to understand or approve.
The two Yings showdown is the biggest difference between previous presidential elections. The candidates truly ought to engage in political debate. The Democratic Progressive Party held its presidential primaries in April. It held four debates over 12 days. By this standard, the two Yings ought to hold at least four debates during the presidential campaign. Actually this is far too few. But four ought to be the very minimum.
We suggest that the candidates hold at least four debates. The topic for these debates should be 1. Cross-Strait policy, 2. Allegiance to the nation and the constitution 3. Economic policy, 4. Other major national policy matters. One look at this framework is enough to tell us that four debates is insufficient. But four debates should be the minimum. Otherwise it will be difficult to expose the similarities and differences between the two candidates' platforms. It would betray the voters.
Cross-Strait policy, allegiance to the nation and the constitution, and economic policy are where Ma and Tsai and differ the most. Therefore these should be the topics debated. The debate should be in-depth. It must get to the bottom of the matter. The debate must address the issues. Failure to do so would leave the candidates' positions unarticulated. It would leave any shortcomings concealed and easy to evade. It would make it difficult to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Take cross-Strait policy. Ma Ying-jeou upholds the 1992 Consensus, one China, different interpretations, and no [immediate] reunification, no independence, and no use of force. Tsai Ing-wen rejects the 1992 Consensus. She refuses to uphold the principle of"no [immediate] reunification, no independence, and no use of force. Take allegiance to the nation and the constitution. Ma demands adherence to the "constitutional framework of the Republic of China." Tsai, by contrast, says the "Republic of China is a government in exile." Take economic policy. Ma wants to continue current policy. Tsai, on the other hand, proposes a "localized economy." She opposes "economic growth as a priority." She wants to overturn the "industry first, agriculture second" policy. She opposes "export-orientation." As we can see, Ma and Tsai are literally poles apart on these policies that bear on our national prosperity, How can we not hold debates over these ideas? How can we hold fewer than four debates?
Ma and Tsai are running for president. They are competing for the opportunity to determine national policy for the next four years. The two presidential candidates seek four years in power. The very least they can do is take two hours out to explain where they stand on cross-Straits relations, on allegiance to the nation and the constitution, on economic policy. We are essentially giving them four years in power in exchange for two hours of debate. Do the voters really have no right to expect a debate? Do the presidential candidates really have the right to refuse?
Debates should address specific topics. The "candidate interaction cross-examination" process used during the 2008 presidential debates should be preserved. This is one of the best ways to probe a political candidate. Otherwise, it will be too easy for a candidate to speak a totally different language, and talk right past the voters. For the most part, questions from the audience should be asked by professional journalists. Their record has been imperfect. But they may be better at grasping the essence than experts and scholars. As for the recent practice of allowing the public to ask questions, it may appear "democratic." But the debate is likely to degenerate into chaos, enabling candidates to evade serious questions. The debate would then be a total waste. This option should be discarded.
Two debates were held during the 2008 presidential election. Frank Hsieh predicted that Ma Ying-jeou would default on his "6:3:3" promises. His prediction came true. Frank Hsieh also predicted that if Ma were elected, cross-Strait direct flights would be delayed 10 years. But less than a year later, direct flights were a reality. Hsieh blasted what he termed a "one China market." He even characterized the general election as "a referendum on the one China market." He warned that "Taiwan men will be unable to find work. Taiwan women will be unable to find husbands. Taiwan children will end up as child labor in Heilongjiang.” The dire scenario painted by Frank Hsieh failed utterly to materialize. Ma Ying-jeou clearly won Frank Hsieh's "referendum."
The political differences between Ma and Tsai are even greater than those between Ma and Hsieh. The KMT and DPP are diametrically opposed on issues such as cross-Strait relations, allegiance to the nation and constitution, and economic policy, Ma seeks re-election. Tsai seek to displace him. Their policy platforms must be make clear to voters. They must publicly debate their pros and cons. After all, whoever wins the presidential election will not merely seize power. He or she will represent the will of the people regarding national policy.
During its party primaries, the Democratic Progressive Party held four debates, merely to nominate the party's candidate. Ma and Tsai are now running for president. They warrant more than four debates. Certainly they warrant no less than four debates. Ma and Tsai have the responsibility to work together to upgrade the quality of the election. Four debates is the very least they should offer voters.