Wed, Jan 13, 2010 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : Honesty is worth the risk of ulcers

In view of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) recent string of poor electoral showings, one would expect members who care about the state of the party to jump at the chance for a frank discussion with party leaders on how to stop the bleeding.

President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) dinner for KMT lawmakers on Monday night provided such a chance, giving the lawmakers a rare opportunity to deliver pan-blue supporters’ grievances in person to Ma, who doubles as KMT chairman.

It looked set to be an interesting evening, with a number of legislators saying they would seize the opportunity, but instead turned into a rather bland affair, with lawmakers backing down at the request of KMT Legislator Hsu Yao-chang (徐耀昌).

“I told [them] that we were likely to get ulcers if we talked about serious issues while eating and they all agreed. We can find a better time to offer suggestions,” Hsu told reporters after the dinner.

In the end, Ma may have been the only one to go home that night with an ulcer. The president spent the evening touting his planned economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with Beijing and asking lawmakers to promote it. Legislators also offered some comments on the US beef protocol and the swine flu vaccination program, but skirted the party’s election woes.

A number of KMT lawmakers told the press yesterday that Hsu’s comment had caught them off guard, adding that they did not want to ignore his suggestion “out of respect” for their colleague.

Rather than blaming Hsu, KMT lawmakers who purport to have the public’s grievances in mind should not be so easily dissuaded from voicing criticism.

One would hope that lawmakers who are more than willing to launch a volley of criticism on talk shows would have the guts to challenge Ma to his face. Are we to believe that, out of the kindness of their hearts, legislators wanted to spare Ma from public embarrassment because they feared he might not take criticism very well in a public setting?

Regardless, KMT lawmakers failed their supporters by “playing nice” at the dinner, letting Ma off the hook and ignoring the anxiety among pan-blue supporters over the party’s condition.

Indeed, a glance at the news clip of Monday’s dinner showed everyone smiling and drinking — one might have mistaken it as a feast celebrating an election victory rather than a wake for a string of embarrassing election results.

As for Ma, if he is sincere about seeking the reasons behind the KMT’s poor electoral showing, as he has said, he should have dismissed Hsu’s suggestion and invited those present to fire away on what he and his government have done wrong.

Ma’s approval ratings have tumbled in opinion polls across media outlets, suggesting that a large percentage of the public is questioning his competence and crisis management skills.

But no one can help a government that won’t help itself by opening the door to public opinion — and public dissatisfaction. The Ma administration gains nothing by surrounding itself with pliable voices who don’t dare challenge it in person.

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