PEACE PACT POLEMIC: ANALYSIS: Ma opts to shift election campaign focus*


By Mo Yan-chih  /  Staff Reporter


This week, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) shifted the focus of the presidential election campaign squarely onto cross-strait issues when on Monday he proposed the idea of a possible peace agreement with China in the next few years and then said on Thursday that a public referendum would be held before any pact would be signed.

The proposed peace agreement with China immediately sparked a dispute about what impact it could have on Taiwan’s future, with Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) saying that Ma was using the pact to move toward unification with China and accusing the president of manipulating the issue to help his re--election bid.

Touching on the sensitive issue of cross-strait relations less than 90 days before January’s presidential election was a risky move that would not necessarily have a positive impact on Ma’s re-election bid, analysts said.

“It’s risky and hasty for Ma to raise the issue of a cross-strait peace pact. Proposing a public referendum three days after being criticized by the DPP shows that the Ma camp did not think things through before presenting its plan,” said Wang Kung-yi (王崑義), a International Affairs and Strategic Studies professor at Tamkang University.

Signing a peace agreement with China is a highly sensitive and complicated issue that would inevitably lead to discussions on unification and independence, and the lack of substance in Ma’s proposal would only increase public concern that his administration is sacrificing Taiwanese sovereignty during cross-strait negotiations, Wang said.

“The peace pact issue saved the DPP from recent questions surrounding its vice presidential candidate Su Jia-chyuan (蘇嘉全) and the legality of his farmhouse, and Ma’s failure to present specific content or a timetable for the proposal make it difficult for the pact to boost his support,” Wang said.

According to a poll released yesterday by Future Events Trading Co, National Chengchi University’s prediction center, following the proposal of a peace agreement and a public referendum, Ma’s support rating stood at 49.8 percent, while Tsai’s was at 49.7 percent.

These new figures represented a three point slide for Ma, down from 52.8 percent in the center’s previous survey earlier this month, in addition to a more than a two point bump for Tsai, who was up from 47.1 percent. This represents more than a five point swing this month.

Chao Chun-shan (趙春山), a political scientist at Tamkang University, said the proposed peace agreement with China should be the most important policy platform in Ma’s re-election campaign, adding that the campaign would provide a great opportunity for the public to scrutinize Ma and Tsai’s cross-strait rhetoric.

Chao disagreed with Wang’s interpretation that the idea of a referendum emerged only after the proposed peace agreement drew harsh criticism from the DPP, saying that the Ma camp raised the issue with the objective of shifting the focus of the campaign and turning the presidential election race into a peace agreement referendum.

A peace pact was suggested during the first meeting between former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Lien Chan (連戰) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in 2005, and Ma included it as part of his cross-strait platform in the 2008 presidential election.

National Dong Hwa University’s Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒) said the decision to touch upon the issue of a public referendum showed that Ma and the KMT, which opposed a referendum on the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), were trying to force Tsai and the DPP to articulate their cross-strait stance, while at the same time marginalizing People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜), who is gathering signatures in an effort to join the presidential race, but has not yet made a decision about running.

Rather than holding a referendum to gauge public opinion about the proposed peace pact, Ma is using the issue as a tactical maneuver against the DPP, which has been supportive of a public referendum as a way to understand public opinion, but is opposing signing a peace pact with China, Shih said.

Chao suggested that Tsai, who has been avoiding cross-strait issues, should take the chance to present a more solid cross-strait platform and offer alternative solutions if she does not agree with Ma’s cross-strait policies.

“For the voters ... it is a great chance to watch the two candidates closely as they debate issues related to national identity and the national interest leading up to the election,” he said.


 * Taipei Times 2011/10/22