A main opposition party is an integral and indispensable part of a thriving democracy. However, the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) cynical exploitation of the tense scene and tragic accident outside the Legislative Yuan on Tuesday morning was unhelpful and dangerous.
There are several incontrovertible truths about the wave of pension reforms, especially those pertaining to military personnel.
First, it is imperative these reforms are carried out. The Public Service Pension Fund has been in the red since 2011. The hidden debt from the pension system last year stood at NT$18 trillion (US$615.8 billion at the current exchange rate). If the government does not see through the reforms, the military pension program will be bankrupt by 2020.
Second, due to a combination of the cold reality of the situation and a heady mix of misinformation and misunderstandings, people who have served this nation, with the expectation that they would be well looked after in their retirement, are justifiably — because of their understanding of the situation — scared and angry. Tuesday was testament to this.
Third, economic and demographic changes the world over are causing the governments of many nations to reassess their pension systems, often resulting in more modest payments or later retirement ages. Nowhere are these changes popular, but at least people are being given the chance to adjust to the changes when they are introduced incrementally and with adequate lead times.
Why is the government having to push through such painful reforms only two years before the system is expected to go bankrupt? It is almost criminal negligence, but not on the current administration’s part.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration held numerous talks about the impending bankruptcy and resolved to take action, but in the end preferred to kick the can down the road over fears of a political backlash among its core voters.
Which leaves us here.
Early on Tuesday morning, the day Premier William Lai (賴清德) was to give an administrative report to the legislature, pension reform protesters stormed the Legislative Yuan compound, demanding that the government delay its pension reform bill review until further talks with retirees could take place.
During the protest, retired colonel Miao Te-sheng (繆德生) fell from the third floor while attempting to scale the building.
He remains in intensive care at National Taiwan University Hospital.
In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Lai said legislative discussions would be postponed pending further public consultation on the matter, while President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) called for a more rational debate on reform.
Meanwhile, KMT Chairman Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), Vice Chairman Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) and former KMT chairwoman Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) attended the protest against a reform their own party had reneged upon, despite being fully cognizant of how imperative it was.
Hau said the protest had “shaken the nation to its core,” while Hung said that if the government did not proceed cautiously there would be a riot.
She is right. There could be a riot. These reforms are highly contentious, the climate is tension-filled, and thank you, KMT, for doing your utmost to stoke those tensions for its own political expedience, especially since it dropped the ball when it was in power.
The government has to act swiftly and decisively. The pension fund is already perilously close to collapse. The government needs to confer with the public and make a decision. The issue needs to be carefully considered, but a degree of certainty and clarity is of utmost importance if tensions are to abate before things get out of control.
We do not want to hear that the discussions will be postponed indefinitely. The government needs to set a time frame, be decisive and keep the public in the loop.
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