Thu, Aug 16, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Ma Ying-jeou's halo loses its luster

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) may have been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Taipei District Court in his corruption trial on Tuesday, but other events that transpired during the proceedings have done untold damage to the reputation of the man many once believed offered a refreshing alternative.

Ma's name has been dragged through the mud over the last six months as every aspect of his personal life and professional career have come under intense scrutiny.

The results do not make happy reading for his fans.

First, of course, was his indictment. Ma immediately resigned from the KMT chairmanship in line with the party's "black gold" clause, but then stood by silently as the party repealed the clause -- which he had introduced -- because it would have prevented him from running as the party's presidential candidate.

Then during the trial, Ma maintained that he believed the special mayoral allowance was for personal expenditure, but outside of court he had said the opposite -- that he considered it was only for public expenditure -- directly contradicting himself on a number of separate occasions.

This was followed by the Taipei Arena scandal, where a senior official in Ma's former administration was indicted on charges of bid rigging in return for bribes. There was also the small matter of another Ma aide being found guilty of forgery in the special allowance case and being sentenced to 14 months in prison. Ma himself was not implicated in the accountant's actions, but it showed that despite all his stated intentions, the man who preaches clean politics is as helpless as the next man when it comes to ridding Taiwan's political scene of corruption.

Next came the chaos of the Maokong cable car project, where Ma's haste to get the project finished during his tenure left Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) to clean up the mess. Next Magazine leveled similar accusations of a rush job at Ma over the construction of the Taipei Arena.

But most damaging of all was Ma's vow to run for president even if found guilty in his first trial. This showed a blatant disregard for the rule of law and the judiciary, and ran contrary to everything that he once stood for -- and indeed was once in charge of as minister of justice.

The transformation from prissy, principled, politico to profligate, power-hungry presidential candidate was complete.

On the surface Ma may once have promised to be different from the KMT of old, but the last few months have proven beyond doubt that a Ma presidency would consist of the same old vintage KMT, just rebottled. The same vintage that voters rejected in the last two presidential polls.

The KMT's belief that an innocent verdict holds the key to the presidential palace -- demonstrated by the joy on the faces of KMT officials and Ma supporters outside the court -- may prove to be misplaced as the ugly memories of the last few months will have put off many moderate voters who were previously planning to stump for Ma next March.

Because while Ma was proclaimed innocent in court, he is most definitely guilty of letting his party's desperation to regain power cloud his judgement.

Whether this will have a definitive effect on the outcome of next year's presidential election is hard to predict, but it is safe to say that many people will never look at him in the same light again.

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