Mon, Jan 16, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Ma lacks a leader's responsibility

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman and Taipei City Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is perhaps the most popular political figure in Taiwan today, and has long been the darling of the local media. But ironically, his recent words and deeds have displayed a huge absence of a sense of responsibility as the leading potential candidate in the 2008 presidential election.

In a recent interview, the KMT chairman said that his party's eventual goal in cross-strait relations is unification. Ma then proposed -- but later discarded -- the idea of holding a referendum to decide whether the government should open direct links with China. He said the referendum idea was just an academic suggestion, and one of many options.

Ma's political maneuvering on cross-strait issues clearly aims to capitalize on his current high popularity to gain momentum for the presidential campaign. His direct challenge to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) recent stance of prioritizing "active management" over "effective opening" in cross-strait economic ties could be a calculated move to garner support from the business community. But Ma's abuse of his popularity may mislead the public about how much better cross-strait relations will be if the KMT regains power in 2008. It also overlooks the danger of China's combined use of a military threat and divide-and-conquer strategies to coerce Taiwan's government.

A potential candidate for national leadership must demonstrate both integrity and responsibility to the public. He must let the voters understand that the major hurdle in cross-strait relations is China's attitude. Exerting pressure on Taiwan's government, while failing to push China to talk to Taiwan, is putting the cart before the horse. That the nation's future relations with China should be decided by the 23 million people of Taiwan is the consensus already accepted by both the governing and opposition forces in Taiwan. Even former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) would not have dared to publicly announce that unification was his party's ultimate goal. The vast majority of the public currently favors maintaining the "status quo."

According to a recent poll conducted by the Taiwan Thinktank (台灣智庫), only 6.6 percent of respondents support Ma's talk of unification, while nearly 89 percent said that the decision should be left to the Taiwanese people as a whole.

The same survey showed that nearly 66 percent expressed support for Chen's idea of tightening the government's management of cross-strait economic relations. The survey suggested that although Ma and the Ma-obsessed media may attempt to manipulate the public's impression of him, most people are not being fooled.

Ma's about-face in suddenly embracing the idea of a referendum demonstrates his explicit intention to use a basic right to score political points. Holding referendums has previously been considered taboo by the KMT and the People's Republic of China, who see it as merely a tool for pursuing de jure Taiwan independence. Coming from a political party that has denounced referendums as crossing a "red line" toward Taiwan independence, Ma's attempts to use a plebiscite as a tool to please the business community is simply political maneuvering intended to pressure the DPP government into opening direct links with China.

In fact, the Beijing government will oppose a referendum in any form or on any topic, because because such a popular vote makes them quake with fear. If Taiwanese people begin to rely on referendums to express their opinions, Beijing believes, it's only a matter of time before a referendum is held on Taiwan independence.

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