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No clear winner emerges as beef war ends with a whimper

In the end, voting was quiet. Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng called the Yuan Sitting to order for four votes total, one for each revision to the Act Governing Food Sanitation, and lawmakers keyed in ballots at their seats largely in silence. Within the space of 15 minutes, Taiwan's seemingly interminable struggle over U.S. beef imports had closed.

It was a resigned, tired finish to the beef war, in which every political player lost tremendous amounts of the public's faith.

President Ma Ying-jeou sat at the big table in 2009 and told the U.S. that he himself could open the borders to beef offal. It's likely Ma had done the same with ractopamine during his 2012 presidential campaign. One problem with these pledges was that Ma did not have the power to make them against the grain of public opinion. A second problem was that Ma then failed to communicate the terms of these closed-door agreements to the Taiwan public. Whereas Ma in February was declaring repeatedly that he had no timetable for relaxing the ban, by midyear Ma's actions made clear that he believed it to be the right time to crystallize the beef decision. When the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) stalled out the clock on Legislature's beef vote in June, Ma urgently mobilized the KMT caucus to request a special session.

It is in the beef war that Ma has shown he does not trust his people enough to talk to them straight, and the president has a great deal of damage control to do in his years left in office.

The DPP, too, has made great errors in the U.S. beef war that plague the party's future. In May and June, the DPP was hurling manure at the Council of Agriculture and storming the speaker's rostrum to protest ractopamine. By July, the party had discarded its arguments — and all the interests they represented — like so much bathwater.

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