Sun, Nov 21, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ma's nitpicking won't work

Traffic tickets have, surprisingly, become the latest fodder for political mudslinging. The whole thing started when Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) openly criticized President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for having seven traffic tickets cancelled more than four years ago. Thereafter the controversy began to snowball, as more and more people jump into the debates and more and more people -- including Ma himself -- became casualties in this war of words.

It is hard to not wonder about what has come over Ma in these past weeks. Taking on Chen has seemingly become the new meaning of his existence. The relationship between Ma and Chen has always been rather awkward, to say the least, since Ma is the only pan-blue heavyweight who has defeated Chen in an election. Chen's amazing comeback in winning the presidency and becoming Ma's superior of course added some fascinating twists to the tale.

But Ma's new attacks against Chen are increasingly of a petty and personal nature, over matters such as traffic tickets and jay walking.

If this is all part of the pan-blue camp's campaign strategy for the approaching Legislative Yuan elections, one must doubt how much Ma is actually helping out his camp's candidates. With Ma personally jumping into the spotlight to take on Chen, everything and everyone else -- most notably Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Lien Chan (連戰), who is supposedly the real commander of the battle -- blurs into the background.

Moreover, in legislative elections, the voters are less likely to vote for political parties and more likely to vote based on their perception of the individual candidates. Under the circumstances, taking on the head of the rival party isn't going to go far in terms of winning votes. Instead, voters will perceive Ma as engaging in a personal, one-on-one battle with Chen.

Ma is no longer simply one of the vice chairmen in the KMT, but someone -- in fact the only one -- who carries enough weight to challenge Chen. It seems natural to consider Ma as the only viable contender from the pan-blue camp for the presidency in 2008. By comparison, Lien and People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) look like a pair of over-the-hill, washed-out politicians.

But one cannot help but question Ma's wisdom in choosing the stones being thrown -- focusing on things that some would consider miniscule and petty. It isn't hard to understand Ma's underlying logic. It's his intention to point out that despite Chen's modest background, he is no exception when it comes to abusing privileges and perks. This supposedly will provoke the resentment of common citizens for whom things such as traffic tickets and fines are inescapable facts of life.

The problem is that Ma did not consider the potential backlash his tactics might provoke. If he is going to pester his opponents over minor matters such as traffic tickets, he should make sure that he himself is an exemplary citizen 24 hours a day. But lo and behold, he was immediately caught breaking traffic laws himself -- parking on red lines and extending his arms from the window of a moving vehicles to wave to the crowd. Stories like this make people think "no wonder he did not have to cancel his tickets: the police don't dare give him tickets in the first place."

If what Ma is doing is part of the pan blues' legislative campaign strategy, it is not working too well. They'd better think of something else before their time runs out.

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