There is nothing unusual about a governing party and the opposition having their differences. This is no excuse, however, for them refusing to meet and sort out these differences. On Thursday, Minister of the Interior Lee Hong-yuan (李鴻源) met representatives from environmental groups in what was an example of how this should be done.
There had initially been some tension between the two sides, as Lee had criticized environmental groups for not supporting the government’s fuel and electricity price increase policy. The groups replied, through the media, that Lee had got his wires crossed and Lee then invited them to a meeting. To all appearances, it had all the makings of being quite a fraught occasion.
As it turned out, despite the differences of opinion, the atmosphere at the debate was affable. The groups kept to their positions that the price increases had little to do with energy conservation or environmental protection and simply reflected the losses accrued by CPC Corp, Taiwan and Taiwan Power Co (Taipower). As a result, they said, there was no reason to support the policy.
Lee conceded their basic point. In the end, Green Consumers’ Foundation chairman Jay Fang (方儉) suggested that if Lee were to show a commitment to carbon disclosure over the next year, the environmental groups would be more than willing to help out. Lee promised to cooperate. From what could have been a tense meeting, the two sides succeeded in communicating meaningfully with each other and in generating a constructive plan of action. It was a real swords-to-plowshares moment.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has done quite well in this regard in his relations with Beijing, but relations between domestic political parties are pretty frosty, and have been for some time. For four years now, Ma has been talking of meeting with opposition leaders. While it was no surprise that he had little to do with former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), he did not have much to do with the pan-blue People First Party either. He recently broached the subject again, but nothing came of it and DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) accused him of playing politics.
There are several reasons for the breakdown in communication between the governing and opposition parties. First of all, Ma is too interested in appearances. He wants any meeting with opposition leaders to be held in a public forum, TV cameras present, with himself in the capacity of president, with the stated aim of reaching a consensus — like some kind of formal meeting between two national leaders. This poses too many complications, with too many factors that can go wrong.
Second, politics is always going to get in the way. There is little love lost between the government and opposition and each side will approach any meeting intent on political point-scoring. There is just too little room for agreement or concession.
Third, it is far from clear that Ma will be going into any meeting with a genuine desire for communication. As president and chairman of the governing party, he holds all the cards and he is not going to want to compromise or concede anything to the opposition. He lacks the mentality to see the benefit of communication taking place at all. It is no surprise, then, that talks on holding a meeting never go beyond the preliminary stages between intermediaries.