Mon, Mar 24, 2008 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Ma faces many challenges

President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) faces a tough challenge: How to boost the economy by delivering on his campaign promises.

The people of Taiwan -- who gave Ma 58.45 percent of their votes against 41.55 percent for Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) rival Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) -- made it clear that they hoped to see the economy improve after the new government takes office.

Many Taiwanese might also have decided to vote for Ma because they were fed up with corruption scandals and government bickering between legislative and executive branches, but admittedly the election results shows they were more concerned about their salaries and living standard.

On Saturday night, Ma made his first move by saying that his first priority would be to establish direct air links with China and allow more Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan.

During his campaign, Ma promised to establish a "cross-strait common market," or as his rivals labeled it, a "one China market." But it will take more than a decade to turn this idea into reality because it involves talks across the Taiwan Strait that would certainly touch on the sensitive sovereign status issue on which neither side is likely to concede.

There is also the question of when and how China would want to work with the new Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government on these matters -- the ball is in Beijing's court, not Taipei's.

Ma's real priority should be forming a Cabinet that is both professional and capable of dealing with the nation's immediate economic problems, especially the issue of rising consumer prices.

The DDP government has tried to intervene in the market through a series of price-control measures, including freezing both energy and utility prices in the wake of recent dramatic fluctuations in global commodity and raw material prices.

Although these price controls were aimed at easing the import-driven inflation facing this nation, they have also resulted in growing losses at state-run energy and utility companies.

It is easy to say that the caps on fuel prices, for example, are unfair for all taxpayers because people who drive cars are generally more financially capable of coping with inflation. The problem is how the new government wants to address this issue: Will it scrap the controls on fuel prices or impose an energy tax to curb consumption?

During their campaign, Ma and Hsieh both advocated closer economic links with China, despite differences in their approaches. But Taiwan and China have experienced completely different industrial structure and investment environments over the past eight years. Many Taiwanese businesspeople who left for China eight years ago are now trying to relocate elsewhere because of China's new labor and tax laws.

Ma now faces the test of whether his economic policies can safeguard the interests of overseas Taiwanese businesspeople, while improving Taiwan's investment environment and increasing domestic consumption.

Other problems such as unbalanced regional development in Taiwan, the growing gap between the rich and the poor and the demise of local agricultural sector will also pose challenges to Ma's government.

Problems such as a slowing US economy and global financial woes, however, will always have a negative impact on Taiwan's export-oriented economy, which the new government will also need to be prepared to handle.

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