Thu, Nov 06, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Politicians’ ‘uniforms’ promoting conflict

By James Wang 王景弘

For a long time now, politicians in Taiwan have had the rather unfortunate habit of donning weird and wonderful outfits when they take to the streets drumming up votes in election campaigns. Even when they are in the Legislative Yuan, they have taken to wearing sleeveless jackets with their names embroidered on them.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lifer, reared in its bosom from a young age, never seems to grow tired of treading the sidewalk suitably attired in his campaigning costume. Seeing him accompany the KMT’s Taipei mayoral candidate, princeling Sean Lien (連勝文), strutting his stuff, it is difficult to know whether to laugh or cry. Meanwhile, Prince Lien is trying to divest himself of his image of moneyed privilege, and has taken to slumming it in black T-shirt and jeans instead.

Ma seems to be having a bit of an identity crisis when he is out there on the streets campaigning for Prince Lien, dressed for battle in his sleeveless jacket embroidered with Lien’s name. He cannot get enough of the rapturous reception he gets on the campaign trail, which is so much nicer than having to deal with things like the tainted oil scandal when he is stuck in the office. He finds being out and about on the streets so much more amenable.

There, he can forget himself. When the two are out there, Ma just gets totally carried away, hogging the limelight and shoving Lien into the wings. Narcissism is a trait not easily suppressed for long. Have you ever seen the like? The supporting cast wearing the star attraction’s name, while the star himself cannot be bothered to put on the costume supplied for him. Not for this pair matching his-and-hers outfits. Perhaps there is substance to the rumor that the two men do not have all that much in common, despite their efforts to demonstrate otherwise.

Talk about the democratic circus. Roll up, roll up. It is all for show, it is all about dressing for the part. However, politicians in Taiwan do not know who they are supposed to be taking their cue from. Back in the day, it was all about the red sash draped over one shoulder when out electioneering, which has evolved over time into the now ubiquitous sleeveless jacket embroidered with their name and party affiliation. Even when dueling in the legislature, they put on their specially made costumes, displaying their name and party for all to see, like their own individual banners stating for which side they fight as they head into the fray.

In Western democracies, whether they follow a presidential system as in the US or a Cabinet system like in the UK, people in congress and parliament conduct themselves in a considered, mature fashion; elected representatives are professional and responsible, turning up appropriately suited and booted, neat and tidy. They do not denigrate themselves by wearing silly costumes emblazoned with their party name, or by scrapping in the national legislature.

When an army goes to war, uniforms and insignia are essential: They make it possible to distinguish which army a person is fighting for, so soldiers do not accidentally kill someone on their own side. It also enhances the feeling of camaraderie with those who are with you, and enmity for those who you are against. It is the same with sports teams. When they play against each other, the different kit makes the referee’s job easier, and also promotes team spirit among members of the same side. Come now: A nation’s congress is another proposition entirely. People there should behave in a civil and conscientious manner. Wearing these sleeveless jackets as battle dress only serves to promote conflict.

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