The approach of Tropical Storm Talim last week had a political effect, which was that a provisional session of the legislature could not be held and was instead postponed until July 20. An interesting question to ask is who lost out from Talim, and who gained from it?
Some people say that Talim helped President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) out of a tight spot. Their reasoning is that if the provisional session had gone ahead at a time when lawmakers belonging to Ma’s Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) were unwilling to fight for him, then the only motion tabled for the session — a proposed amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) that would primarily affect imports of US beef — would not have passed. If that had happened, Ma’s authority would have once again been badly dented. Now that the meeting can no longer be held, Ma can avoid further humiliation and so, according to this theory, the storm helped him out in a big way.
However, from another point of view, this is not the case. When the extended legislative session came to an end, the US beef issue was still unresolved, so Ma promptly convened a meeting of Cabinet, legislative and party officials and ordered them to immediately hold a provisional legislative session to ensure that the beef additive amendment would be passed. Evidently, Ma was hopping mad. With the provisional session now postponed, Ma’s plan cannot go forward and his calculations have all been messed up.
More importantly, the UN’s Codex Alimentarius Commission, a body set up to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair international food trade practices, will meet in Rome from Monday to Saturday next week. Information currently in the hands of government departments suggests that the commission may make a judgement unfavorable to the leanness-enhancing agent ractopamine. If so, then it can be foreseen that by the time the extra legislative session is held on July 20, KMT legislators will be even less willing to endorse Ma’s position on the relaxation of imports of US beef containing the controversial livestock feed additive.
As the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), it is of course the winner in this situation. The DPP was against holding a provisional session to start with, so its lawmakers are sure to be pleased now that the heavens have lent them a helping hand. In addition, the Codex Alimentarius Commission looks set to give a further boost to those who oppose amending the law. When that happens, even if the KMT and its supporters in the media resort to their old tricks of distortion and vilification, it will not do them any good.
Contrary to weather forecasters’ expectations, Tropical Storm Talim did not do much damage to Taiwan, so it turned out to be something of a tempest in a teacup. Talim created only one disaster area — the area around Ma himself.
As to the issue of ractopamine, is it not also a tempest in a teacup? All the Cabinet needed to do was issue an executive order amending the Standards for Veterinary Drug Residue Limits in Foods (動物用藥殘留標準) and it would have been assured of resolving the problem. Why go to all the trouble of fighting it out in the legislature?
Ma is the one who was determined to do it this way. In his view, his party’s majority in the legislature was so secure it could even force through the Local Government Act (地方制度法) two years ago, so why should the US beef issue be a problem? As KMT Chairman, Ma thought that his party’s legislators would all take the rap for him, just as his former secretary Yu Wen (余文) did over Ma’s special allowance fund when he was Taipei mayor.