Tue, Aug 23, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Can Ma put an end to the political standoff?

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

A thorough look at current Taiwanese politics often prompts people to call for an end to the political standoff and for rational dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition.

As Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) officially took over the chairmanship of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), he pledged to reunite the pan-blue camp and win back the presidency in 2008.

Certainly, one of Ma's key responsibilities is to make a comeback after the party's consecutive losses in the last two presidential elections. The expectations of the majority of the public, however, center more on the hope that he will help bring back normal party competition and halt the opposition's obstructionism.

While President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) expressed hope for better interaction between the government and the pan-blue alliance after the KMT's chairmanship election last month, no concrete progress has been made to bring the nation's politicians together to engage in rational and non-partisan debate on key policies.

Ma lacks a strong determination to present a vision for the country. He will need to use new thinking to find a way to forge constructive interaction with the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government and bring about institutional checks and balances in Taiwanese politics.

It is sad to see that he has focused most of his efforts over the past few weeks on trying to appease his defeated competitor in the chairmanship race, Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-ping (王金平), and in displaying loyalty to his predecessor, Lien Chan (連戰), in order to win more support in the elections for central committee members.

In doing so, Ma has failed to live up to KMT voters' expectations that he would inject fresh air into the century-old party, and has disappointed the public by hesitating to outline a clear plan for engaging in a rational and policy-oriented contest with the DPP.

It is natural for Ma to incorporate a prudent and incremental approach to consolidate his power in the new KMT power structure. Nevertheless, more concrete steps and determined action will be needed to remold the party and reorganize the pan-blue camp. One of the main challenges that Ma will encounter is establishing an internal democratic decision-making mechanism.

The key for Ma lies in the extent to which he can distinguish himself from Lien's obstructionism against the Chen administration over several crucial legislative bills that the government has pushed forward intensively in the past months.

In other words, Ma should reorient the KMT's consistent and destructive strategy of "boycotting everything proposed by the president" and persuade the KMT's ally, the People First Party, to play the role of the "loyal opposition."

Moreover, Ma must prevent the pan-blue camp from making all its political calculations based simply on individual party interests -- at the expense of the public's needs.

The public has witnessed the verbal wars between the DPP government and the pan-blue opposition for the past five years. Ma's inauguration is an opportunity to open a new era of reconciliation and dialogue -- but only if he can employ political wisdom and pragmatism.

In any democracy, checks and balances between political parties are normal. A dutiful opposition certainly may criticize the administration and articulate its opinions in order to win the next election, and the public can judge the truth and fairness of its criticisms. A smart leader, however, must grasp the pulse of society and take aggressive action to meet the public's expectations.

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