Politically aware readers will have noticed what happened to the mayors of the nation's two special municipalities on Tuesday. In the morning, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) appointed Kaohsiung Mayor Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) as premier and asked him to form a new Cabinet. In the afternoon, Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was summoned by the Control Yuan for questioning in connection to the recent MRT escalator accidents and the incident of an abused girl who was turned away from several Taipei hospitals.
For 50 years, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) emphasized the north of Taiwan over the south and national resources were concentrated in the north. In the eyes of northerners, Kaohsiung has long been viewed as a city in the remote countryside, compared to cosmopolitan Taipei.
Because the nation's media outlets are concentrated in the capital, this situation has led to narrow-minded "north-centric" attitudes. The media's long standing focus on the city has given rise to the perception that Taipei is Taiwan. Taiwan outside of Taipei seems to be nonexistent, and the mayor of Taipei has naturally become a media darling. Every move he makes has become national news, while the political achievements of the Kaohsiung mayor has forever been designated as "regional news."
The Taipei mayor is better looking than many celebrities, and the media's love affair with him borders on the psychotic. Even when foreign media mention him, they characterize him as honest or "the very popular" Taipei Mayor Ma. Hsieh, however, who was elected the same year as Ma, seems to have been exiled to a place no one has heard about or shows any interest in. Lacking the media spotlight, his only support has been his popularity among Kaohsiung residents.
This has long been a cause of discontent for the residents of southern Taiwan. Fortunately, the Ai River speaks for itself. One of Hsieh's major administrative achievements has been to revitalize the Ai River, which used to be renowned for its filth and pollution. Now, the Ai River has been developed into a glittering cultural and commercial icon. It may be as a result of this achievement that the Taipei City Government has begun to refurbish the river bank areas of the Tamsui and Keelung rivers and set up tourist marinas in Tataocheng and Kuantu. Due to a lack of comprehensive planning, its efforts have not won much support from Taipei's residents. This situation goes to underline the fact that while the Taipei City Government has plenty of plans, it doesn't have the ability to see them through.
The fact that Hsieh has "come north" to form a Cabinet is a recognition of his achievements in administering the nation's main harbor city, and also an indication of the growing importance of southern Taiwan. Ability and public support are both important factors in politics, and the reason that Hsieh has been raised to his new position is due in no small part to strong grassroots support in the south. It is certainly not simply due to the fact that he and Chen are old comrades.
The Ma Ying-jeou myth, on the other hand, is falling apart after repeated scandals in the city government. Ma's weakness -- the fact that he lacks decision-making ability -- is gradually being revealed. Kaohsiung has now become a glittering metropolis, but Taipei residents have not seen much improvement in the city's administration in recent years. Nothing much has come of the conversion of the Sungshan Tobacco Factory into the Big Dome Sports and Cultural Complex, of which Ma is so proud.