Thu, Jul 01, 2004 - Page 8 News List

'Status quo' is just the easy choice

By Hsu Yung-ming徐永明

Many local politicians like to claim that "maintaining the status quo" is a majority consensus of the nation's people.

The presentation of the various opinion poll results show that among the three options for Taiwan's future -- unification, independence, and maintaining the status quo -- a majority of respondents usually choose to maintain the status quo. Then comes independence, while unification often receives the lowest support. Nevertheless, when being asked to choose between unification and independence if it's impossible to maintain the status quo, those who choose independence still outnumber those who choose unification.

This is an interesting phenomenon, rather like peeling an onion. First, the option of maintaining the status quo provides a comfortable choice for opinion poll respondents, as they are able to avoid the sensitive unification and independence issues, and do not need to think about future uncertainties. This option offers an exit for respondents' mental anxiety as a result of the questionnaire's design. Therefore, the so-called consensus of maintaining the status quo may be a myth created by the wording of poll questions, not the sacred "public opinion" politicians claim.

In comparison with opinion polls that do not offer the option of maintaining the status quo, one finds that the percentage of respondents taking the initiative to mention this issue decreases, as more of them are willing to choose between unification and independence. Of course, those who choose independence are more numerous than those who choose unification.

Thus the question of unification or independence as a measure of people's "national choice" has been negatively influenced by opinion polls. This reflects the changeability of political arguments as well as the survey design problem.

The nation's future has been a focus of debate both before and since the presidential election. Major issues include the traditional division of unification and independence, "one country on each side" of the Taiwan Strait versus the "one China" principle, and the idea of renaming the nation "Taiwan Republic of China" recently proposed by Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮). These issues reflect the political wrestling over the nation's position.

This has a significant impact on the future political situation. First, for the party system division, the political spectrum of unification and independence will turn into a spectrum of localization and non-localization. Parties will even be distinguished by their degrees of localization. This means that the past unification-independence issue has been replaced by "one country on each side," as actively promoted by President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

In the framework of unification and independence in the past, there was an ambiguous option, the status quo. When most Taiwanese people chose to maintain the status quo, cognitive conflicts often occurred in their minds. Therefore when Chen proposed the "one country on each side" dictum, this negated maintaining the status quo.

Through this move, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) succeeded in gaining a majority of the votes. Hence, when the blue camp gave up the so-called "one China under one roof" policy, it also declared that the election battle was leaning toward the pivot of national identification. If both Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) continue to lead the blue camp into the campaign for the year-end legislative election, national identification will still be a focus. But it will be presented through concrete issues such as a referendum on constitutional reforms, so as to continue political reforms based on nationhood identification. This will not only redraw the domestic political map but also will affect the triangular relationship among Taiwan, China, and the US.

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