Ma's democratic credentials queried

TRUE COLORS: According to analysts and political pundits, the Taipei mayor has opposed the nation's democratic reforms in the past and is still opposing them now

By Huang Tai-lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Thu, Jan 29, 2004 - Page 3

Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou's (馬英九) vocal opposition to President Chen Shui-bian's (陳水扁) proposed referendum is a reflection of his conservative political stance, poli-tical observers say.

"Looking back over the past few years, it's clear that the pan-blue camp's middle-generation elite -- such as Ma Ying-jeou and [Tai-chung Mayor] Jason Hu (胡志強) -- tends to be more conservative when it comes to sensitive issues such as ethnicity, independence and unification, referendums and the like," said Chiu Hai-yuan (瞿海源), a professor of sociology at National Taiwan University.

Questioning the legality of Chen's planned March referendum, Ma on Tuesday described Chen as a "red-handed criminal in action."

Ma's rhetoric immediately drew a sharp response from Cabinet spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍), who said Ma's statement had "insanely insulted" the head of the nation.

"Ma's reactionary stance has been consistent," Lin said. "A referendum serves as the best mirror for politicians in Taiwan, exposing any anti-democratic attitudes they harbor."

Taking their offensive a step further, members of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) yes-terday fired a volley of criticism at Ma, with DPP Legislator Julien Kuo (郭正亮) branding Ma "a serial anti-democracy criminal (民主的累犯)."

"Looking back at Taiwan's road to democracy, Ma had always jumped out to block the moves and made such statements, as in the cases of opposing legislative reforms and direct presidential elections," Taipei County Commissioner Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said at a news conference at the DPP's headquarters yesterday in his capacity as the party's national campaign manager.

Su was referring to the reform of the Legislative Yuan in 1991 and the first direct election of the president and vice president in 1996.

Until then, presidents of the Republic of China (ROC) were chosen by the National Assembly, which was first elected in China in 1947 to carry out the duties of choosing the president and amend-ing the Constitution.

Re-established in Taiwan when then-president Chiang Kai-shek's (蔣介石) Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) retreated to Taiwan in 1949, representatives elected in 1947 and 1948, all mainlanders, held onto their seats "indefinitely" because it was impossible to hold subsequent elections for representatives in those constituencies in China.

It wasn't until June 1990 that the Council of Grand Justices mandated the retirement of National Assembly members, which became effective in December 1991.

Like the National Assembly, representatives elected in the Legislative Yuan in 1947 and 1948 held these seats "indefinitely" until the grand justices 1991 ruling.

The second National Assembly was elected in 1991. A majority of members were elected directly, while some were chosen from party slates in proportion to the popular vote.

The National Assembly amended the Constitution in 1994, which paved the way for the direct election of the president and vice president in March 1996.

In 1994, the Legislative Yuan also passed legislation to authorize direct elections for the positions of Taiwan provincial governor and mayors of Taipei and Kaohsiung municipalities.

As Taiwan underwent these democratic transitions, Ma, a KMT stalwart, came out to oppose the changes in order to safeguard the interests of his party.

At the time Ma said the president should be elected by the reformed National Assembly, rather than by direct election.

He also opposed amending Article 100 of the Criminal Code, which allowed for people suspected of plotting to overthrow the KMT regime to be charged with sedition.

In 1991, Lee Chen-yuan (李鎮源), an internationally recognized expert on snake venom research and a passionate advocate of Taiwan independence, led the Action 100 Alliance (一百行動聯盟), whose aim was the abolition of the provision in the Criminal Code.

Lee's call received vigorous support from both Taiwanese intellectuals and the public, prompting the legislature to abolish the article.

The abolition of Article 100 granted the people of Taiwan freedom of thought and speech as well as freedom of association.

"These events did demonstrate Ma's position as anti-democratic and anti-reform," said Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華), an executive member of the Taipei Society and a sociology professor at National Chengchi University.

However, Chiu believes that Ma should not be labeled as "anti-democratic" or "anti-reform" simply because of his stance during these events.

"It is rather unfair to label Ma with these names simply by judging him from one perspective of what he did during those events," Chiu said.

"He was simply reflecting his party's political stance and defending the interests of the higher echelons of his party," Chiu said.

Chiu also defended Ma's actions on the night of the 2000 presidential election, in which the KMT's presidential candidate, Lien Chan (連戰), lost to the DPP's Chen, ending the KMT's 50 years of rule.

Some criticized Ma as being anti-democratic when he addressed an angry crowd of KMT supporters that had gathered outside the residence of then-president and KMT chairman Lee Teng-hui (李登輝). In his speech, Ma urged Lee to step down.

"I don't think it was so much that Ma was anti-democratic but rather that he, then serving as Taipei mayor as well as a member of the KMT's Central Standing Committee, was confused about what he should do in terms of what was appropriate for his roles," Chiu said.

While agreeing that Ma's recent comments about Chen were inappropriate, Chiu said that the Taipei mayor's harsh rhetoric might also be the product of the intense campaign atmosphere ahead of the presidential election.

"With the election campaign's intensity growing, both camps' moves and rhetoric are inclined to move toward the extreme ends of the spectrum, which will make the DPP appear more progressive and the KMT more conservative," Chiu said.

Meanwhile, Ku cautioned Ma to be more careful with his rhetoric in order to avoid being labeled "anti-democratic and anti-reform."

He gave the example of the mayor making an "inappropriate" analogy between referendums and the Cultural Revolution in China when the issue first surfaced last September.

"The fact that Ma is largely regarded as the pan-blue camp's heavyweight means that he needs to be more careful with his public rhetoric," Ku said.