LIKE THE KINGDOM of the Fisher King in T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, Taiwan is suffering from a deep malaise. Its problem is that President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is impotent: impotent as a leader and impotent in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Because of this, he is impotent to make any long-term constructive contributions to the nation. He can only talk.
Ma watchers sensed this long ago. When Ma was Taipei mayor, they noted that his predecessor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had run a much tighter ship. The observation was reinforced in July 2005, when Ma became KMT chairman and made two empty promises: that he would divest the KMT of its illegal assets and that he would push Taiwan’s needed arms budget in the KMT-controlled Legislative Yuan.
Despite the fact that his party has always controlled the legislature, he failed miserably on both counts.
KMT stalwarts were disappointed in 2005 when Ma got enough of the young vote to beat Lien Chan (連戰) for chairmanship of the party, but they bided their time. They knew they controlled the assets and money of the party and that Ma not only couldn’t touch them, but would eventually need them.
When the KMT won a veto-overriding two-thirds majority in last year’s legislative elections, the return of its corrupting power was evident even before the presidential poll. With veto-overriding power, it mattered little to KMT legislators whether Ma or his Democratic Progressive Party rival Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) would win the presidency.
Though they preferred the weak Ma, they felt they would be able to override either candidate once in office. Four KMT legislators even felt bold enough to storm Gestapo-like into Hsieh’s campaign headquarters, order people around and demand the rent be raised.
So last March, when pundits abroad oohed and aahed at Ma’s rise to power, those who knew his weak character could see the writing on the wall. Seven months later, Freedom House wrote an open letter, highlighting that human rights were in danger of being lost because of Ma’s lack of leadership and control.
Ma can only talk, and one way he seeks to hide his impotence is by talking out of both sides of his mouth and on both sides of the fence.
Some say: “Well, at least he can claim he is right 50 percent of the time.” Others complain about his vacillation. Regardless, most people realize you cannot trust much of what Ma says.
During China’s crackdown in Tibet last March, Ma said Taiwan should show its support for Tibet by not sending its athletes to the Olympics. A week later, Ma wished them well as they left for the Olympics and approved the insulting name “Chinese Taipei.”
During his presidential campaign, Ma sought the religious vote, firmly supporting the Dalai Lama and freedom of religion. But later, when the Dalai Lama expressed the desire to visit Taiwan, Ma — fearful of offending China — said: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Concerning Tokyo, Ma has alternately stated he is ready to go to war with Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) and that Taiwan and Japan enjoy long, unshaken, friendly relations that should be built on.
On Taiwan’s sovereignty, Ma says he supports it, yet hides the country’s flag when representatives from China come. Is Taiwan an area of China, a region, a state or a country? It depends on when Ma speaks and to whom.