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'Compromise' not a bad word, its antonym can be terrible
Publication Date : 08-10-2013
Most politicians like to portray themselves as persons of principle and masters of their destinies. Flip-flopping is often frowned upon as a sign of inconsistency and pusillanimity. But the art of compromise for the greater good and, more importantly, the ability to know when to employ such an art are often the most valued qualities of politicians in modern democracies. Recently people in three of the world's most iconic democratic cities have seen the nadir of political brinkmanship at a time when they need their politicians to cooperate the most.
In Rome, the city that gave the Western world its legal and legislative foundations in the form of the Roman Republic, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recently vowed to withdraw his party's support of Premier Enrico Letta and topple the coalition government, thereby throwing the eurozone's third biggest nation into crisis at a time when the single currency is still fighting for its existence. Berlusconi was ostensibly calling for a no-confidence vote to protest against an impending value added tax (VAT) hike, but his move was widely seen as a threat to the Letta government as it proceeded to expel him from the senate due to his conviction for tax fraud.
In Washington, capital of the democratic superpower, an impasse in Congress has thrown the US federal government into a shutdown because the Republican-led House of Representatives insisted on passing the federal budget only if the Democrat-led White House and Senate agreed to delay President Barack Obama's healthcare reform legislation. The shutdown furloughs hundreds of thousands of federal workers, keeps another 1 million working without pay (wages will be reimbursed after the shutdown), disrupts government services and closes money-making sites such as monuments and national parks. The shutdown came at a time when the US is facing once-in-generations challenges with high unemployment rates and a stagnated recovery from the Great Recession.
The even sadder fact is that this shutdown is widely seen as a mere precursor to the upcoming congressional fight over the US's debt ceiling. If Congress fails to pass a ceiling hike, the US will have to default on its debts for the first time in history. Many economists said they simply have no idea what the consequences of such an unprecedented event will be. Some who dare to guess said the negative impact on the economy could be on the scale of the Lehman Brothers collapse.
In Taipei, capital of the Republic of China, a nation that prides itself as “Asia's first republic,” people watch in bemusement as the president locks horns with the Legislature speaker. Tipped off by the Special Investigation Division (SID), President Ma Ying-jeou last month berated Speaker Wang Jin-pyng for alleged illegal influencing peddling and called it “the most shameful” incident in Taiwan's history. When Ma's move as the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) chairman to revoke Wang's membership (thereby dethroning the speaker) was foiled by a court injunction order, the nation was thrown into gridlock. Opposition lawmakers seized the opportunity and blocked Premier Jiang Yi-huah, a supporter of the president, from reporting at a Legislature still led by Wang. Again, the impasse and the confusion came as Taiwan is struggling from stagnated wage growth and its high-tech industry is in dire need of restructuring in the post-PC age.
Ironically, it was in the famously volatile Italian political scene where aversion of crisis through compromise took place. After several of his own party members made it clear that they would not risk pushing the nation into crisis by toppling Letta's government, Berlusconi made a U-turn and called on his party to vote in support of Letta. It is the clearest form of flip-flopping and no doubt a humiliating defeat for Berlusconi personally, but it also saved Italy and by extension the eurozone from an unneeded disaster.
In Taiwan, the president decided not to appeal a court injunction against the KMT's revocation of Wang's membership. While continuing the fight to legally expel Wang from the KMT, Ma finally accepted the court's decision to allow Wang to keep his job before the final verdict. Such a decision no doubt symbolises a defeat for Ma, who had so relentlessly tried to write Wang off less than a month ago. But it keeps Taiwan from a prolonged and embarrassing confusion over the status of its legislature leader. But the compromise is only partial and currently only between KMT members. More is needed to end the legislative impasse and get the government back to continue much-needed economic reforms.
Now the democratic superpower that likes to call itself the “leader of the free world” is looking into the abyss as its politicians play a game of brinkmanship in which the world's economy is at stake. Let's hope politicians there will remember the art of compromise before it is too late.