Sun, Nov 23, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Why blues jumped on constitution bandwagon

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

Admit it. It all has to do with electoral strategy. When Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan(連戰) slapped his own face by proposing a KMT constitutional plan last week, the first impression that struck the voters was surprise, surprise.

Lien has long been portrayed as conservative, stiff and always backward, so his announcement that he wanted to initiate a referendum for a new constitution astonished pan-blue supporters. His about-face also confused leaders in Beijing and Washington as to who is fanning the flames across the Taiwan Strait.

Less than two months ago, when President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) called for a push toward a new constitution in 2006, Lien's instant response was "nonsense." The KMT launched a series of TV ads that aimed to persaude voters that Chen's efforts were part of a push toward independence and that a war between Taiwan and China would be imminent if Chen were re-elected.

Lien has enjoyed a lead in the polls since he teamed up with PFP Chairman James Soong(宋楚瑜) eight months ago, but Chen has been catching up. Who knew that Lien would eat his own words to boost his declining approval rate?

Lien owes the voters a fair explanation of why he changed his position.

The two most popular theories to explain his flip-flop are that it has to do with American influence; and that he decided to take a radical position in order to outpace Chen.

The suspicion that Washington has been employing a "two-handed" strategy with Chen and Lien has been widely circulating within the pan-blue camp. The improved treatment that Chen received during his trip to New York and Alaska reinforced such speculation.

According the pan-blue camp, Chen should not receive such good treatment when he travels. Instead, the Americans should punish him for causing trouble.

Chen's trip not only helped narrow the Lien-Soong ticket's lead in the polls, but has also been seen as an expression of the US' "tacit consent" to Chen's recent policies. The pan-blue camp felt stabbed in the back and decided to punish Washington for its interference in Taiwan's domestic politics.

But this theory doesn't hold water. First of all, not long before Lien's visit to Washington in mid-October, the US publicly announced that it would not get involved in Taiwan's election. The State Department further called Chen's trip "very good" because the US had provided Chen a comfortable, safe, convenient and dignified stopover. Washington is taking no sides when it comes to the question of how it treats Taiwan's leading presidential candidates.

The second explanation regarding Lien's new pledge has to do with the tempo of the campaign: that by offering a bolder and more radical alternative on constitutional reform, the pan-blue camp could take back control of its slow and inactive campaign. Lien's proposal for three-stage constitutional reform must be completed two years earlier than Chen's proposal. even though this goes against the blue camp's previous positions.

Lien has provided a quicker solution to Taiwan's constitutional inadequacies but that does not mean it is a better solution. Besides, Lien's announcement fell short of generating a consensus within the pan-blue camp. It was nothing but a one-man decision.

The amendment of the constitution is a huge national reform project. Consensus is required before a schedule can be set up. If Lien's goal is merely to outdo Chen, without taking into consideration the need for public education and debate, his proposal is doomed to fail.

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