Monday, April 19, 2010

ECFA Referendum: Eastasia was never at war with Oceania

Oceania was at war with Eastasia! The next moment there was a tremendous commotion. The banners and posters with which the square was decorated were all wrong! Quite half of them had the wrong faces on them. It was sabotage! The agents of Goldstein had been at work!

Today the Administration broke necks all over Taiwan as thousands of readers did double-takes over the following headline (Taipei Times):

Ma never opposed referendums: Wu

The paper reported:
Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) yesterday said he and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) had never opposed referendum bids launched in accordance with the law and denied that the government had changed its stance on holding referendums.
It summarized with due restraint:
Given that Ma has said on numerous occasions that a referendum on an ECFA was unnecessary because the proposed agreement would not touch on political issues, King’s comments were perceived by some as a change of stance on the issue of an ECFA referendum by the Ma administration.
Meanwhile, from back when Oceania and Eastasia were still at war, Taiwan News reported on March 27, 2010:
President Ma Ying-jeou declined to agree that the controversial proposed "cross-strait economic cooperation framework agreement" with the People's Republic of China should be ratified by national citizen referendum Friday, saying that "referendums should not be used to decide each and every matter."
Ma added that the pact would be submitted to the legislature as a treaty, clearly bypassing the whole referendum approach. In May of last year Ma said in Belize, as my man A-gu noted on his surpassingly excellent blog:
The quote in Chinese is reported by the Liberty Times as follows: 「我一向都主張台灣的前途必須由二千三百萬台灣人民來決定,涉及主權議題才需要公投」"I have always held that Taiwan's future is to be determined by Taiwan's 23,000,000 people; only topics related to with sovereignty need a referendum."
As far back as you go...

Feb 20, 2009:
TT: You said during the presidential campaign that all major government policies must be supported by public consensus and that referendums are one option in soliciting public opinion. Are you now ruling out referendums as an option?

Do you think direct transportation links are a major issue? Many polls show that 60 percent of the public supports the initiative, but do you think it is necessary to hold a referendum?

A referendum is an option, but it is not the only option. Referendums are time-consuming and expensive. A referendum costs about NT$300 million [US$8.8 million], or NT$500 million to hold. It also takes time to promote. If the government were to hold a referendum for every major policy, it would be very hard for the government to operate. We simply cannot hold a referendum because some people are against a government initiative.
Wait -- let's see that on the instant replay:
We simply cannot hold a referendum because some people are against a government initiative.
Now if my wife said me that "we simply cannot go to India" or "we simply cannot have beef for dinner any more" or "we simply cannot put up with your bicycling" I would assume she was against trips to India, beef, and biking. So would most people, I suspect.

What about Ma's team? Taiwan's rep offices hosts the same arguments as Ma constantly makes (1) it isn't necessary and (2) nobody hold referendums on FTAs. From its FAQ:
Q18. Why not hold a referendum?
In signing the ECFA, the two sides will not at all touch on the sovereignty issue; they will be entirely focused on matters of economic cooperation. Therefore, holding a referendum will not be necessary. Also, whenever countries around the world have signed free trade agreements (FTAs) or similar regional trade agreements, there have been virtually no instances of referendums being held.
Sounds like opposition to me! If the government is not opposed, why keep saying it is "unnecessary"? As late as April 3 the Presidential Office spokesman was reiterating these same points in response to the DPP's demand for a referendum. The Central News Agency (CNA), the government news agency, also reported that Ma opposed the referendum:
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on Thursday reiterated his opposition to a referendum on the government’s planned economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) with China, saying it was not necessary because no political items would be included in the proposed agreement.
Ok, so maybe it's just a pan-Green thing to read the constant iteration of Ma's "referendum is unncessary" as active opposition. So how do Ma's own supporters understand him? As opposing! China Post, the pro-KMT English paper, noted in June of 2oo9, in its own (not CNA) report:
Despite President Ma Ying-jeou's objection, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is all set to initiate a referendum on an economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) between Taiwan and China.

Ma told the press in Belize last Friday he is opposed to the referendum the opposition party is planning to call. A referendum must be called if the issue involves sovereignty, the president said. There shouldn't be “too many referendums,” he warned.
One can only ask, as the DPP did last May:
“Why did the government agree to a referendum on legalizing casinos in Penghu, yet opposed a referendum for an issue relating to national interests such as on the ECFA?” Chao said.
But the lies and hypocrisy are not the whole story. As the DPP/TSU campaign in favor of a referendum grew -- and public support for it mushroomed, meaning that the Administration was taking a political beating -- the Ma Administration began quietly setting up this policy change. For example, MAC Chairman Lai Shin-yuan said in March of this year, more than 30 days ago. Lai is parroting the Administration line:
Given that the ECFA is solely an economic pact, it should be discussed on rational grounds through a sound democratic mechanism so as to establish consensus among all segments of society. In other words, for the government, any agreement signed with Beijing must satisfy three fundamental conditions: need, public support and legislative monitoring.

Yet, considering such a pact involves highly technical issues, it is inappropriate and unnecessary to resort to a referendum. But any move to initiate the ECFA referendum would be respected by the executive.
The whole "referendum is unnecessary" line was created to enable the Administration to engage in displays of opposition to democracy without any direct statement of opposition. Sweet. But nobody believes them, after months and months of repeating the "unnecessary" line, because everyone understood what the Administration has made utterly clear.

A serious policy reversal for the KMT as the DPP referendum drive scores a major political victory. As I noted in a post on Taiwan News' rip of Ma's opposition to the referendum a few weeks ago:
Stimulating a debate over a referendum on ECFA has been a sharp political move by the DPP. Not only is it an example of the positive pro-democracy policies of the DPP -- a rebuttal to the pan-Blue talking point that circulates as conventional wisdom in Taipei that the DPP has no policies -- but also shows how the KMT Administration is inherently anti-democracy, patronizing, and out of touch with the public.
Still true. Now go out and win the referendum, guys.
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Beijing2008 said...

You find out something new about President Ma every day.

Ben Goren said...

You've got to hand it to the President and King: They are to the honest practice of democracy and rule of law what Sun Tze and Machiavelli were to peaceful resolution of differences through transparent dialogue and mutual respect.

Act 1: We oppose referendums for a policy that was not in our manifesto, whose details are withheld from public oversight and which is negotiated between parties as much as it is between governments.

Act 2: We do not oppose referendums ... just referendums for policies that are too important to us to fail. We supported a Penghu referendum for a minor economic issue that had political repercussions but with ECFA we can't rig the polling so that the restrictions of the referendum law will not be applied. We therefore are very unlikely to be able to pass the referendum. Ergo the referendum is unnecessary.

Act 3: Once again, we reject the referendum because it concerns a policy proposal and not a concerete law.

Act 4: Its too late for a referendum because the deal has been signed and we cannot renege on it without losing our WTO status.

Act 5: By providing oversight, the Legislative Yuan effectively spoke for the people and represented their concerns. Since the LY decided that ECFA was ok, so too do a majority of Taiwanese.

Act 6: Anyone who threatens the ECFA agreement is a troublemaker seeking instability in the Chinese nation. All opposition is a TI plot supported by evil Western interventionism in the sovereign interests of the Chinese people.

J. Michael said...

Great wrap-up, Mike. Also:

Presidential Office spokesman Lo Chih-chiang (羅智強) yesterday, after being asked whether the Referendum Review Committee would use technicalities to boycott the proposal, as happened with the first bid for a referendum:

Lo said it was unlikely because the committee was “fair and free of political interference.”

Lo said Ma never said he opposed referendum bids launched in accordance with the law.

So... the first bid was not launched in accordance with the law? That's not how I remember it, and that wasn't the reason given by the committee after it turned it down.

Anonymous said...

Most likely the referendum will fail anyway (lack of participation) even if one is conducted in the end..