Tue, May 06, 2003 - Page 8 News List

The nation must pull together to fight SARS

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

In an attempt to fight against the spread of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has upgraded the epidemic from an public health disease to an issue concerning national security. This move displayed not only an urgent need for the administration to take over the crisis management from individual cities and counties but a determination to engage in a long-term war on SARS.

Since the situation has entered a critical phase, it takes all political parties and civil association to work hand in hand. Regretfully, both the KMT and the PFP failed to lend a helping hand to the Chen administration. Rather, their strategy is to add more political points by taking advantage of the government's poor handling of the crisis.

Two cases demonstrated the oppositions' narrow-mindedness.

The first case involved a KMT politician, Hsinchu Mayor Lin Junq-tzer's (林政則) blocking of three SARS patients from being transferred to the Hsinchu General Hospital. Despite the fact that Lin's loose-cannon behavior drew strong criticism, the pan-blue camp condemned the Executive Yuan for not being able to consult the Hsinchu City Government before issuing the transfer.

Case number two: both KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and PFP Chairman Jams Soong (宋楚瑜) refused to attend the cross-party summit meeting convened by Chen to evaluate the overall situation. Heads of the pan-blue camp responded by emphasizing that "both the KMT and the PFP have long taken steps to help the fight against SARS and it is therefore unnecessary to turn the issue into a partisan one."

This argument is simply nonsense. SARS is becoming a national emergency. Its impacts have transcended the measures for stopping the spread of the disease. It is also closely related to issues of the nation's relationship with the outside world, especially with China, as well as international factors concerning transportation.

For example, an immediate regional cooperation mechanism is needed for an alert and response system to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases from getting beyond control.

Therefore, SARS is not merely a public health issue. It's regional, even global. How could the heads of the two main opposition parties, and the next presidential candidate be absent from such a high-level meeting simply because "they don't think it necessary"?

In a mature democracy, it is often odd to witness leading opposition leaders, one of them is an ex-vice president, criticizing the president so harshly or showing no respect to the national leader as if they themselves are not a citizen of the country.

Former US president Bill Clinton never attacks President George W. Bush for his handling of domestic and foreign affairs. Even former US vice president Al Gore, who lost to Bush by a small margin, did not point his finger at Bush after the Sept. 11 incident.

In this regard, Lien and Soong displayed a lack of democratic morality. In any democracy, checks and balances between political parties are normal.

A dutiful opposition certainly may criticize the administration and articulate its opinions in order to win the next election. The truth and fairness of its criticisms are open for public judgement.

However, in the face of a national crisis like this, all political leaders should let go of past rivalry and help the country out of the nightmare. United, we stand. Divided, we fall.

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