Fri, May 02, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Cooperation needed to beat SARS

When the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) took a sudden turn for the worse last week, resulting in Taipei Municipal Hoping Hospital being sealed off, bickering between political parties temporarily came to a halt. But now that the government has the situation better under control, symptoms of political discord have begun to re-emerge.

Yesterday, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) convened two meetings to discuss the SARS epidemic. At the first meeting, a national security conference, Chen made two very important points -- that the epidemic had escalated into a national security issue, and no one had the right to obstruct attempts to control it.

The disease is a national security issue because of its effects on businesses and the stock market and the collective paranoia it has caused across the country.

In such trying times, everyone, regardless of which party they belong to or which part of the country they are from, must cast aside their differences and cooperate to combat this epidemic. Sadly, while everyone claims to be cooperating, some politicians just can't help being themselves

For example, neither KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) nor PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) attended yesterday's second meeting, which was supposed to bring together the leaders of the main parties. Instead they sent representatives. Wouldn't it have been nice if the two had been willing to demonstrate the opposition camp's support for the government? A picture of all of them at the meeting would have gone much further in demonstrating cross-party unity than any flowery comments they may make. Their presence would have helped boost public morale and sent a strong message to members of the opposition camps that they must cooperate with the government.

Some members of the opposition camp are not so clueless. KMT Vice Chairman Liu Chao-hsuan (劉兆玄) -- the former deputy speaker of the Legislative Yuan -- yesterday criticized his party's failure to punish Hsinchu Mayor Lin Jung-tzer (林政則), who led a group of people to block the transfer of SARS patients to a Hsinchu hospital. Not only should Lin be dealt with properly by his party, Liu said, but the KMT should also apologize for Lin's blunder.

Liu is of course right. The KMT's inaction in this regard and Lien's refusal to attend the meeting with Chen reinforce the impression that the opposition is being uncooperative for political reasons.

The Chen administration, in contrast, is doing a better job about showing unity. After Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) criticized Taipei City Hall for mishandling the situation at the Hoping Hospital, not only did Lu immediately issue a press release explaining that she had not meant to blame anyone, but Chen himself called Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to express his support.

Today, the Legislative Yuan will vote on a draft bill designed to tackle the SARS epidemic. Although the opposition and ruling camps have fought over how to fund the NT$50 billion bill and how to ensure that the media produce accurate reports about the disease that do not engender panic, the two sides eventually reached a tentative agreement yesterday afternoon.

Whether the bill can be passed today without a hitch will be a key indicator of whether the parties are truly able to cast aside their old grudges for the sake of the country. Everyone should keep their fingers crossed.

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