The ECFA is no get out of jail free card

By Lu I-ming 呂一銘  / 

Sat, Aug 28, 2010 - Page 8

The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) recently used its legislative majority to force through the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), thinking it would help increase its popularity ahead of the year-end special municipality elections.

However, the decision had the exact opposite effect. Almost 60 percent of voters are unhappy with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government and according to the latest figures from the Center for Prediction Markets, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) enjoys a big lead in Tainan and Kaohsiung. The KMT enjoys stable support in Taichung City, while the races for Taipei and Sinbei cities are too close to call.

In addition, the decision of DPP Kaohsiung County Commissioner Yang Chiu-hsing (楊秋興) to run as an independent, and of DPP Tainan Mayor Hsu Tain-tsair (許添財) to consider running in Greater Tainan, seem to have galvanized the pan-green camp, greatly increasing its chances of victory.

Simply put, it is hard to see what benefits the ECFA will bring Taiwan.

The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics recently announced that the rich-poor gap stood at 6.34 times last year, and 8.22 times if social benefits and government transfers were excluded, an all-time high. Together with the high unemployment rate, frequent environmental mishaps and the fact that average citizens do not feel their quality of life is improving, this is a big blow to the government.

There is a South Korean saying that local elections make graveyards for ruling parties. This proved true in June when South Korea’s ruling Grand National Party did badly in local leadership elections. Similarly, in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party lost to a left-wing alliance in local elections in March.

These examples show that local elections are not always local in nature, because voters often direct their complaints about such national issues as slow economic growth and unemployment toward whoever is in power at the time.

Recent legislative by-elections, the three-in-one elections and the Irrigation Association elections in May have all provided a clear indication of voter sentiment. For example, in the Feb. 27 legislative by-elections, the DPP won three out of four seats, as opposed to March last year, when former KMT legislator Kang Shih-ju (康世儒) was elected as an independent in a Miaoli legislative by-election, while the DPP’s Liu Chien-kuo (劉建國) won in Yunlin County.

In the three-in-one elections in December last year, the DPP won 50.96 percent of the vote and the KMT 47.88 percent. Of the 15 irrigation associations long controlled by the KMT, the DPP won control in Yilan, Taoyuan, Kaohsiung and Pingtung, for the first time ever. This will lead to changes in the balance of power across the country.

The KMT’s repeated unsuccessful attempts to play the ECFA card are evidence that its governance and promises to improve living standards have so far failed to convince the public.

However, the KMT shows no sign of re-evaluating its performance. Instead, it has once again resorted to bashing former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), using its legislative majority to amend the Act Governing Preferential Treatment for Retired Presidents and Vice Presidents (卸任總統副總統禮遇條例). Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) and Ma have even had the temerity to interfere in an ongoing legal case after the Taipei High Administrative Court ordered the suspension of the Central Taiwan Science Park development.

There is little evidence that trumpeting the supposed benefits of the ECFA will prove to be a winning electoral strategy.

Lu I-ming is the former publisher and president of Taiwan’s Shin Sheng Daily News.