Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Let the debating get under way soon

No wonder some people are beginning to feel fed up with this presidential election. Just the questions of whether to hold televised debates between the presidential candidates and who is to blame for the inability to hold such debates thus far are enough to generate a real war of words between the pan-green and pan-blue camps.

After the Lunar New Year, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) apparently decided to get down to business and no longer be cast aside as an outsider and a mere figurehead in the pan-blue presidential campaign headquarters. He made a high-profile comparison of the March 20 national referendum with "a criminal act" and now is calling for televised debates on the legality of the referendum.

However, Ma's new-found enthusiasm evidently took not only the enemy -- the pan-green camp -- by surprise, but also people on his own side, which in turn demonstrates a lack of coordination and rapport in the pan-blue campaign team.

Ma rarely speaks in such harsh tones. As if they were hesitating over Ma's new demeanor, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) have behaved in a much milder way.

This phenomenon is even more clearly demonstrated in the current discussions about televised debates. Signs indicate that Ma may not win much appreciation from his own camp for initiating the proposal for televised debates.

It is not hard to imagine that Lien, who is not exactly known as a charismatic and eloquent man, would not enjoy the upper hand in live televised debates. So, if he has reservations about such debates, it is entirely understandable.

According to Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) campaign spokesman Wu Nei-jen (吳乃仁), in December KMT Secretary-General Lin Fong-cheng (林豐正) proposed a debate on President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) proposal for a new constitution. But later, perhaps dissuaded by others, Lien began to back down, stalling with all kinds of side issues.

The debate was never held.

This time around, Lien's campaign team acted as if they were clueless about Ma's proposal for the debates. Friday, when asked about the debates, KMT legislative speaker and pan-blue presidential campaign director Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) said he hadn't reported to Lien on the issue yet, and when pressed about whether he supported the debates he said he wouldn't take the initiative to push for any.

As for Lien, his sole response on Friday was a brisk "[I] welcome [it]."

The awkwardness of the situation is further highlighted by the discussions over debate topics. Ma asked for debates on the issue of the legality of the national referendum, which was of course welcomed by the ruling DPP, since the national referendum is the core of its campaign platform. Yet, either unwilling to follow Ma's lead or thinking Lien wouldn't win too many brownie points on this issue, other voices from within the pan-blue camp began to say the first round of debates should be about domestic and economic issues.

The truth of the matter is Lien probably won't enjoy an advantage in a debate over such issues either, not with the rising stock market, declining unemployment rate and improving economy.

Perhaps detecting the reservations of the pan-blue camp about the debates, the DPP is pressing hard to hold the debates as soon as possible -- within 10 days. However, the pan-blue camp is again stalling, saying that a survey should be conducted to help the two sides decide the topics for debates and that the debates should not be held until at least 20 days after the DPP has released a white paper on the referendum issue.

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