A workable coalition needs wisdom
Following last month's legislative elections, Taiwan's political landscape, including the rivalry between the pan-blue and pan-green camps and the minority government in the legislature, remains unchanged.
\nOver the past four years, the politics of opposition between President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) minority Cabinet and the pan-blue camp's position of "opposing everything proposed by Chen" have resulted in a domestic war of attrition in which little can be achieved in government. Chen, knows that this sad state of affairs cannot continue.
\nIf Chen remains lost in despondency during his second term and is too weak to lead the nation and deepen democratic politics -- and push forward with constitutional re-engineering, enhancing ethnic harmony, economic development, make diplomatic breakthroughs, improve cross-strait relations and advance on other major domestic issues -- he will not only forfeit his place in history, he will also stand shamed before his political elders and break the hearts of all Taiwanese people.
\nChen, realistically and pragmatically, took his painful experience to heart and delivered a New Year address outlining a grand reconciliation policy of cross-party negotiations, cooperation and political stability. His speech immediately caused a storm of controversy.
\nThe vote distribution in the legislative elections, meanwhile, roused the People First Party's (PFP) hatred toward the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and prompted post-election criticism from PFP Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜).
\nSoong has since kept his distance from KMT Chairman Lien Chan (連戰).
\nThere is even speculation that he might cooperate with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in policymaking.
\nThe DPP responded to the PFP promptly to show its goodwill toward possible DPP-PFP cooperation -- which would include not only policy-making, such as jointly making laws about party assets and cross-strait issues, but also government appointments, such as offering Soong the convenership of the Committee for Cross-Strait Peace and Development, the chairmanship of the Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF), or even the premiership or the vice premiership.
\nChen's appeal for reconciliation and political stability by bringing two seemingly incompatible parties together is also supported by former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and his Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU). This is because of Lee's magnanimity and the TSU's understanding of the political situation.
\nSoong really lives up to his reputation as a master of political intrigue. From the US, he is remotely controlling the current uproar about a possible DPP-PFP collaboration. PFP legislators and party officials have let off "smoke bombs," providing abundant room for the public's imagination to roam as to the feasibility of such an alliance.
\nBut, a rumor has spread that Soong sneers at the DPP's offer of power and position. Some have even vigorously asked Chen to relinquish the idea of Taiwanese independence and make a public apology for the idea. This shows that there is considerable divergence between the two parties in policies and ideology. Because of their history of power struggles, the path out of this impasse will not be smooth.
\nCoalition governments are common in democratic politics, especially in countries with many political parties. Coalitions and grand coalition governments that span a range of policies, ideologies and degrees of power are not uncommon.
\nFor example, France's semi-presidential system, sometimes typified by periods of cohabitation, is a type of coalition government. In cohabitation, the prime minister and president hold substantial power, are elected separately, and are often from rival parties.
\nTake Japan as another example. From 1993 to 1994, the two major parties, the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the left-wing Japan Socialist Party (JSP), formed a coalition. In order to form a coalition government, the position of prime minister was given to the minority JSP -- after the LDP's 38-year hold on government.
\nFollowing the death of Yasser Arafat, Israel's center-right Likud is in the process of forming a coalition with Labor to seek a peaceful path for Israel's future.
\nWith the end of apartheid in South Africa, the African National Congress' (ANC) Nelson Mandela was elected president, and a coalition government was established with the National Party's F.W. de Klerk as vice president. Consequently, de Klerk and Mandela were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993.
\nIn Australia, the conservative Liberal and National parties are united in a long-standing coalition despite the two parties having widely divergent ideologies and policies. Most of other Cabinet-system countries, such as the UK, Canada and Italy, also have been ruled by two-party or multi-party coalition governments.
\nDemocratic nations can form coalition governments to establish common ground on issues of ideology, policy, power, national security, defense, or in response to a constitutional crisis. The only criterion discerning its usefulness lies in whether this coalition government benefits the nation and offers the prospect of a bright future to its people.
\nThe most critical problem Taiwan faces currently is the split on the issues of national identity, and unification versus independence. Our situation may not be as severe as the confrontational situations in South Africa and Japan. Therefore, we can cast aside the issues of national identity, and the controversy over unification versus independence, and face up to the threat of China's anti-secession law and its white paper, China's National Defense in 2004. Lee, Chen, Lien and Soong should all explore the "art of the possible" in establishing a workable coalition government to face this challenge.
\nUndeniably, the current identity crisis in Taiwan is serious, and the controversy over unification versus independence is like a "contradiction between ourselves and the enemy." As long as these issues remain unresolved, reconciliation between political parties in Taiwan will be difficult to achieve.
\nIf no efforts are made to resolve this situation, Taiwan will remain a nation at odds with itself and in danger of self-destruction. If democracy is to face this future, it may well be destroyed.
\nMoreover, due to China's military threat, Taiwan can be completely destroyed in an instant. Taiwan's 23 million people are waiting to see whether our political leaders have the wisdom and ability to create the "art of the possible" and establish a workable coalition.
\nChiou Chwei-liang is a visiting professor at the Graduate Institute of Southeast Asian Studies at Tamkang University.
\n TRANSLATED BY LIN YA-TI
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