President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) call over the weekend for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to return to the provisional legislative session to “review” the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was disingenuous at best.
Ma said it was the DPP’s responsibility, as the nation’s largest opposition party, to return to the extra legislative session to “monitor the government.”
Sadly for Taiwan’s democratic institutions, “monitoring” the government under the Ma administration, where both the executive and legislative branches are dominated by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), has taken on an entirely different meaning.
The DPP walked out of the “review” on Friday because the KMT, which has about three-quarters of the seats in the legislature, used its majority to bypass a committee review and called instead for one month of deliberations.
A clause-by-clause review of the ECFA has been nixed by the Cabinet and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), a KMT member. Faced with this situation and aware it has insuffient votes in the legislature to kill the ECFA as a whole, the DPP had little choice but to not participate in what is turning into nothing more than an unnecessary exercise to rubber-stamp the deal, for which every taxpayer in Taiwan is paying.
Walking out was the right thing to do. Staying, or returning to the legislature and taking part in this travesty of deliberative democracy would confer an aura of legitimacy on the endeavor that it does not deserve. More than that, by participating in this KMT-orchestrated “review,” the DPP would make it possible for the Ma administration to tell the world that the process was transparent, fair and that the outcome reflected consensus between the two main parties.
Unable to do its job of monitoring the government in the legislature, the DPP has been compelled to work outside the system.
Of course, this action also exposes the DPP to accusations that it is acting “irrationally” and refusing to cooperate in the democratic process. Seen from abroad, those criticisms could even gain some traction. However, given its options, when forced to choose between being portrayed as “extremist” or actually doing what is right for the country, the DPP made the right decision.
Though it is unlikely that this course of action will force the Ma administration to reconsider its ECFA policy, at least the DPP will have stuck to its principles and avoided becoming an accomplice in the perversion of democracy. That alone, however, will be insufficient. What the party must now do is come up with alternative strategies to either prevent an ill-reviewed ECFA from coming into force or, at a minimum, launch a public diplomacy campaign to explain to Taiwanese — and the world — why it could not be a participant in Wang’s legislative circus.
Failing to do so — because of the DPP’s image problems in the international media — would make it easy for the KMT and governments who support the ECFA to cast the DPP in the role of a troublemaker.
The reluctant player here, the one who is exploiting the organs of democracy devoid of its heart and spirit, is the KMT, not the DPP.