To prevent a head-on collision with the opposition parties, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) publicly apologized to KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) on Sunday. But the drive to recall Chen continues in the Legislative Yuan -- although there was a flicker of hope from a KMT legislator who said his party might accept a coalition government as a way out of the crisis.
The response to Chen's apology from the KMT and the general public has. as expected, been split. Some found the president's public self-criticism sincere and moving, and believe that he has learned a lesson from the recall dispute, that he will modify his methods and set up negotiation channels with the other political parties. Those who feel this way believe, therefore, that the recall drive should be halted before it goes overboard and the political disputes should be resolved through constitutional means.
But others think Chen has always bowed when there is strong pressure and then gone back to his usual tactics once the pressure is removed. These people feel, therefore, that a public apology is merely a pretext to gain sympathy, to undercut the legitimacy of a recall motion and block its passage. By laying siege to the legislature with public opinion, they believe, Chen may be able to kill the recall bid through a referendum even if the Legislative Yuan passes the motion.
Both the pro- and anti-Chen camps are now curious as to what the "real Chen" is thinking. Listen and watch may be the best strategy for both camps. Sincerity in itself is never enough to govern a country. Chen's next move will be key to the development of the recall drive.
The president is the head of state who stands above the five branches of government. When Tang Fei (唐飛) was premier, Chen strictly abided by the principle of non-interference in the Executive Yuan's operations, even though he had to take responsibility for the Cabinet's policies. Since Chang Chun-hsiung's (張俊雄) DPP Cabinet took over, however, Chen's interaction with the premier has been intensive. Chen has lost his transcendent position as president. No wonder the opposition alliance has bypassed the premier and directly targeted Chen for recall -- demanding that the president take responsibility for policies.
Our first suggestion is for Chen: Restore the president's supreme position. Talk less and listen more. Do not interfere in the operations of the government branches. Salvage the president's role as an arbiter in disputes between different branches.
Our second suggestion is for the DPP: Learn to respect your opponents and public opinion. The current dispute over the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四) started because government policy was decided without thorough public debate. This is also true with the Meinung Dam (美濃水庫) project. The opposition has every reason to worry that cross-strait or Taiwan independence policies may follow the same pattern. Chen must learn a policy-making model that allows for power-sharing. Good communication is needed between the ruling and opposition parties before decisions are made. Major policies should undergo discussions between the leaders of the different parties.
Our third suggestion is for the authorities: Avoid conflict. The DPP is bent on using its "conflict, compromise, progress" model to deal with disputes. But those in power should not and cannot create an atmosphere of social instability.
Both the ruling and opposition parties are now bluffing. To counter the recall drive, the DPP has threatened to raise a no-confidence vote against the Cabinet -- which would lead to the dissolution of the legislature. Apart from the absurdity of putting up a no-confidence vote against its own Cabinet, the DPP does not even have enough support to file such a motion. If Chen wants to be believed -- and prevent further chaos -- he should follow his apology up with solid action instead of toying with "good cop, bad cop" strategies.
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