Tue, Nov 11, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Kneeling not the mark of a leader

People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) was kneeling in public again on Sunday. It would be quite an unusual event in any democratic country -- a senior political figure and vice presidential candidate trying to drive his message home by getting down on his knees in public. It would be big news. But we've seen it all before with Soong.

Soong first went down on his knees when he was provincial governor, to beg the heavens for rain. The public response to his display was quite good because he was seen as acting for the common good.

During last year's mayoral election in Taipei, Soong knelt for a second time to canvass votes for Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) re-election bid. Most people found the sight of a pleading Soong ridiculous because Ma was already leading the polls by a large margin and there was no desperate need to beg for support. Those more cynical interpreted the act as an attempt by Soong to ensure that Ma would not be a rival for next year's presidential race.

On Sunday, Soong went down for the third time in Yunlin County in front of County Commissioner Chang Jung-wei (張榮味). The PFP chief said he wanted to apologize to Chang for the central government's decision to cut the county's construction budget -- hinting that the cut was aimed at deterring the independent Chang from throwing his support behind the pan-blue camp.

The Executive Yuan pointed out, however, that Yunlin County had not submitted its budget until September, long after next year's national budget proposal had been sent to the Legislative Yuan for review. The Water Resources Agency has also said that the budget issue has nothing to do with politics.

The PFP called Soong's kneeling a sincere act, but it actually looked more like a desperate bid to attract favorable media coverage and shore up its public image. Soong's integrity has once again been challenged by the Chung Hsing Bills Finance scandal. He has also been hard hit by the Extraordinary Reports VCD lampoon of him. Some blue camp members are reportedly sought to replace Soong with Ma. The ruling Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) recent gains in public support have lent urgency to such calls.

Only Soong knows what calculations went into Sunday's emotional display. The management of one's emotions in public is a very important part of a national leader's character. There's nothing wrong with ordinary people shedding tears or kneeling down to express their emotions.

A head of state, however, needs to keep a cool head. He needs to win the trust of the people and rally them behind him. Can anyone imagine a head of state crying in front of cameras when faced with intense foreign pressure? Or can anyone imagine the head of state falling on his knee when China announces a military exercise targeting Taiwan?

If Soong cannot control his lacrimal secretions or keep his knees straight, he should stay at home and away from politics.

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