While some viewers may be less than satisfied with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) performance during Sunday’s televised economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) debate in terms of providing concrete details, it wasn’t hard to catch the one message that ran prominently through the president’s arguments on why the cross-strait trade pact must be signed — his guarantees and promises.
“If the ECFA talks do not secure overall economic benefits for Taiwan, I would not accept it [the agreement] and would rather let it fall apart,” he said.
“My administration is more than willing to be scrutinized by the legislature,” Ma said.
“While negotiations need to be carried out in secret, the results of the negotiations will be made public. I promise people will not have to wait until the [early harvest] inventory list is sent to the legislature for it to be made public,” the president said.
And the list of his guarantees grew throughout the debate.
In most scenarios, a leader’s strong pledges and confident words are welcome and resassuring, reflecting a determination to honor pledges.
Given Ma’s credibility record, however, this is a different story. While it may have yet to occur to Ma, the truth is that he is best advised not to use words such as “promise” or “guarantee,” as they will only remind the public of his failure to fulfill his “6-3-3” promises, which he so notably campaigned on two years ago.
Many are also reminded how lawmakers were ambushed by the administrative branch in November. In the morning, legislative Finance and Economics committee officials spoke of how they would keep legislators informed on a financial memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Beijing, only for an announcement to be made by Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Sean Chen (陳冲) at 6:15pm saying that the commission had completed the signing of the MOU with its Chinese counterpart at 6pm.
As for keeping the negotiation process secret, how can we forget the US beef case in which the government did a good job keeping the agreement secret from the public and the legislature. And the result? A protocol the contents of which alarmed lawmakers across party lines.
In view of these precedents, it was no surprise that a poll released by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) on Monday showed that 56.6 percent of those polled said they did not believe Ma would safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty and defend Taiwan’s interests during ECFA negotiations.
It’s also no wonder that the public’s trust in Ma remains low, as suggested in the latest poll released by the Chinese-language Global Views magazine on Monday that showed Ma’s trust index stood at 43.9 on a scale of 100, a 0.2 point decline from last month. By comparison, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) trust index stood at 53.2 points, an increase of 1.3 points from last month’s poll.
The president’s pledges alone do not carry weight in assuaging public apprehension about an ECFA as a government plagued with credibility issues makes a call on a controversial pact on behalf of its people.
A poll conducted by the Master Survey and Research Co and released by the Taiwan Thinktank on Monday, showed 66 percent of those surveyed were in favor of holding a referendum to decide whether an ECFA should be signed. Further breakdown of answers suggested that among pan-blue supporters, 49 percent agreed to holding a referendum on the ECFA issue, with 47 percent opposed.
The answer to the ECFA controversy is obvious — put it to a referendum and let the people decide for themselves.
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