Mon, Jan 25, 2010 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: President struggles with legislature, public interest

By Flora Wang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Despite landslide Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) victories in the 2008 presidential and legislative elections, the victories did not guarantee a smooth ride for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who doubles as KMT chairman, largely because of power struggles with party legislators.

Poor relations between the executive and legislative branches have worsened recently, particularly after controversy surrounding a beef import protocol signed between Taiwan and the US in October.

Despite Ma’s repeated warnings to legislators not to amend the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法), the KMT-dominated legislature voted on Jan. 5 to bar imports of beef products deemed “risky” from countries where cases of mad cow disease have occurred in the past decade — including the US.

Although the KMT caucus argued it was carrying out its responsibility to safeguard public health, some legislators told reporters anonymously after the vote that members of the caucus had meant to “embarrass” the president because the administration had kept the caucus in the dark before news of the protocol was made public.

Nevertheless, political commentators said the legislators’ turning a deaf ear to Ma showed they had started to place their own electoral interests ahead of their relationship with the president.

“Since the flooding [caused by Typhoon Morakot] on Aug. 8, Ma’s popularity has suffered a dramatic decline because the government was accused of failing to respond quickly enough to the disaster. Many district KMT legislators have dropped their support for Ma and tried their best to avoid being associated with him,” Chen Chao-chien (陳朝建), an assistant professor of public affairs at Ming Chuan University, told the Taipei Times by telephone.

“The Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] also succeeded in fueling the beef controversy by establishing a connection between the government’s performance during the flooding and the signing of the protocol, thus creating the impression Ma is incompetent,” Chen said.

A great number of swing voters became aware that misguided government policies could lead to much more serious consequences than corruption and pan-blue supporters began to turn away from Ma, Chen said.

Seeing the change in public sentiment, between 50 and 60 KMT legislators have started to feel pressure ahead of re-election bids next year, Chen said.

They were forced to differ with Ma to show they had public interests in mind, and doing so highlighted a conflict between their roles as party members and as elected representatives, Chen said.

Ku Chung-hua (顧忠華), a professor of sociology at National Chengchi University, expressed similar sentiments, saying that passage of the amendment was a wake-up call for Ma, who must realize the legislature is out of his control.

The legislators’ change of attitude is even more evident when one examines the numbers, Ku said.

Just before the fall legislative session began in September, the Executive Yuan put 32 bills on its priority list, but only five managed to clear the floor before the legislature went into recess last Tuesday.

The bills that would help fulfill Ma’s campaign promise to allow schools and colleges to recruit students from China were not even included on the agenda of the last plenary meeting of the session, while review of a draft proposal to continue tax breaks to corporations was postponed until the spring.

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