Last year, when the government prepared to sign the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rejected the idea of a referendum on the pact.
Ma said a referendum on the ECFA would be time--consuming and a waste of money. The KMT--controlled legislature also blocked a bill calling for the referendum.
So it was perplexing when Ma on Thursday proposed to hold a referendum on signing a peace agreement with China that he outlined as part of his “golden decade” cross-strait vision, saying the referendum was an important way to test public opinion.
Playing the card of a referendum on his suggestion for a cross-strait peace pact is a bold move from Ma aimed at shifting the focus of the presidential election to cross-strait issues and forcing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to address the issues that she has been avoiding.
And yet the peace pact referendum exposed the inconsistent and conflicting stance of Ma and the KMT.
Immediately after Ma proposed a referendum on any cross-strait peace pact, Tsai challenged Ma to initiate cross-party talks on amending the Referendum Act (公民投票法) to include articles requiring that cross-strait political negotiations be subject to referendums.
The DPP presidential candidate, whom the KMT accused of failing to present solid cross-strait policies, sounded solid this time as she took the initiative to invite Ma, who also doubles as the KMT chairman, for a talk on the amendment of the laws.
The Presidential Office rejected Tsai’s proposed amendment and a meeting with Ma, with Presidential Office spokesman Fan Chiang Tai-chi (范姜泰基) insisting that current laws were sufficient for the issue in question. By turning down the proposal, the Ma administration revealed its ambiguous position on the issue and its lack of respect for the referendum as a democratic mechanism to seek public consensus on major issues.
Ma’s campaign director, King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), who was on a visit to Japan last week as executive director of Ma’s re-election effort, said that Ma had not discussed the issue of a cross-strait peace pact with him before unveiling the suggestion at a press conference. The idea of holding a referendum on a peace pact, he said, emerged after Ma brought up the peace agreement when the two discussed the issue over the telephone.
Consistent with Ma’s ambiguous stance on a possible cross-strait peace pact and a referendum, King said the government was “pondering whether we should do it,” and his proposal was merely a thought.
Even though Ma supported a peace pact referendum, a peace agreement was unlikely to be signed during Ma’s second term if he were re-elected, and it would not be Ma’s call whether the nation should hold a referendum on a peace agreement, he said.
Obviously Ma is being evasive and inconsistent. He referred to a peace agreement with China in his “golden decade” vision, but said such a pact would not necessarily be signed within 10 years. He wanted to hold a referendum as a measure to seek domestic support before signing a peace pact with China, but rejected making a referendum mandatory for other political negotiations on major cross-strait issues.
Without a solid context and clear timetable, a future peace agreement with China and a referendum on the subject remain a campaign tool ahead of the Jan. 14 presidential and legislative elections. This is hardly a smart move by Ma because such a position as ambiguous and vague as this is unconvincing even to pan-blue supporters.
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