Sat, Mar 05, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Chen must try to build national solidarity

By Liu Kuan-teh劉冠德

President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) remark last week that "not even former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) would be able to change the national title at present" has sparked harsh criticism from the Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) and pro-independence groups. Several of Chen's advisors submitted their resignations to protest Chen's endorsement of a 10-point consensus with People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) last month.

Chen's confession that during the remainder of his second presidential term, political reality has rejected the idea of pushing forward the movement of changing the national title and enacting a new constitution. But his supporter base felt betrayed because it contradicted what Chen has pledged before.

To leave a legacy as a capable leader, Chen has no choice but to redefine his role, identify his goals, and implement them step by step.

Domestically, Chen must strike a balance between diverse social forces and forge a unified nation. China's growing influence and the long biased image of Taiwan as a "troublemaker" in the Strait could enable Chen to re-establish his role as a defender of regional peace and stability.

The Chen administration's continued peace gestures to China with regard to implementing the direct Lunar New Year charter flights for China-based Taiwanese businesspeople was a manifestation of breaking the ice in the cross-strait standoff.

Under such circumstances, Chen must react to the criticism made by pro-independence fundamentalists that his rapprochement with the opposition and Beijing sells out the interests of the Taiwanese people.

While admitting the moves toward name rectification and a new constitution are not achievable in the near future, Chen's aim now is to bring the nation back to the real world and concentrate on the urgent issues.

To be frank, the whole fiasco was ignited by sentimental rhetoric, rather than by the accusation that Chen has sold out the pro-independence camp by siding with his long-time opponent Soong. Chen would have minimized the backlash from independence fundamentalists if he were more persuasive. However, fantasy is always what we want but reality is essentially what we need.

Since time is not on Chen's side, he must incorporate stronger leadership, determined action, and the art of political bargaining to his governance. Amid tremendous pressures at home and abroad, Chen must be conciliatory without appearing weak; strong without appearing hostile.

In terms of bridging partisan differences and pursuing reconciliation with the opposition, Chen should use a strategy of persuasion and bargaining to search for common ground on key policies. Without making unreasonable concessions, Chen needs to continue to play a "father figure" role and help the public to learn that the country is beset with difficulties.

Therefore, the extent to which political parties could put aside differences and work together to create a better life for Taiwan's 23 million people will lead the country toward the right track.

Chen should keep in mind that maintaining majority support does not mean abandoning one's principles. It means caring enough about how you explain yourself to get the nation behind you. Since Chen took bold steps but didn't explain them properly, he is failing at the art of persuasion.

Chen should take advantage of the nation's desire for an end to partisan wrangling and cross-strait peace and invite leaders from different political parties and social groups to work together. Only by molding a unified Taiwan can we create a strong and democratic country.

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