The controversy over the year-end pension bonuses for retired military personnel, civil servants and public school teachers continues. After top leaders of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) put heavy pressure on legislators-at-large and instructed the heads of local party branches to ask their legislative representatives to join local and national forces, the party’s legislative caucus finally decided to support the Cabinet’s plan to reduce the bonuses. It seems the Cabinet’s proposal will be passed by the legislature, but no one should jump to any conclusions.
The controversy has been going on for two months, with legislators from all parties criticizing the Cabinet, saying the decisionmaking process has been slipshod, rushed and marked by insufficient communication and backtracking. The KMT caucus’ vote tells us that major concerns are lurking behind the party’s facade of unity and consensus. After the decision, the caucus announced that although 60 legislators participated in the meeting, only 34 of them voted. The remaining legislators did not want to come out in support of the Cabinet, which should be a strong warning to the party’s leaders.
Although the party leadership has managed to temporarily suppress pent-up dissatisfaction among the KMT legislators, there are no guarantees that there will not be a revolt during the formal voting on the legislature floor. Lawmakers fear being abandoned by voters, and because cutting the year-end bonus will offend the party’s cast-iron supporters, KMT legislators will come under great pressure when these voters seek a target for their revenge. This backlash is a time bomb waiting to go off.
The decision on how to deal with the year-end relief bonus will be a prelude to the government’s pension system reform. Although it is only a matter of issuing an administrative order, it is creating seemingly insurmountable problems for the government, which appears almost incapable of handling the issue. The review of the various pension plans that will follow close on the heels of this decision is the main issue, and there are already reports that many KMT legislators have objections to the direction of the Cabinet’s and the Examination Yuan’s proposed reforms.
Amendments to the laws governing the various pension programs will not only affect government employees, but also all other working people. It will cause conflicts between different industries and intergenerational conflict, as well as raise the issue of fair and reasonable differences in the fiscal burden on the government. This issue is all-encompassing, complex and far reaching. If the Cabinet displays the same lack of comprehensive planning and unwillingness to communicate and compromise as it did with the year-end relief bonus issue and the amendment of the Public Debt Act (公共債務法) and tries to push its plans through at any cost, then not only will the KMT legislators once again join hands with the opposition, they will be joined by the opposition legislators who supported the government on the year-end bonus issue. With both internal and external opposition, the KMT is likely to lose control of the situation.
However, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has always overestimated itself and underestimated the opposition, and that is the reason there have often been such huge discrepancies between its goals and the practical results. The opposition parties suggested that Ma call a national affairs conference to build a consensus on how to resolve the current problems, but Ma rejected the proposal and insisted that the government should deal with the situation on its own. Judging from how the government has handled the year-end relief bonus issue, there is little reason for optimism. We can only keep our fingers crossed and hope that Ma the “ineffectual bumbler” will be able to rise to the challenge.