One year ago, Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was elected president with 58 percent of the vote. Two months later, his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) took over the reins of government from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in Taiwan’s second democratic transfer of power. At the time, Ma enjoyed approval rates of more than 70 percent. The figures today look rather different. An opinion poll conducted by Global Views magazine found that only 29 percent of respondents were satisfied with the performance of the Ma administration, while 58 percent were dissatisfied. It is high time the Ma government reviewed its policies.
During his campaign, Ma made his “6-3-3” promise — 6 percent annual economic growth, annual per capita income of US$30,000 by 2016 and unemployment below 3 percent. None of these promises looks remotely achievable. The nation is suffering a severe economic downturn, unemployment is climbing and many workers have been forced to take leave without pay. Despite this huge discrepancy between vision and reality, however, not a word of apology has been heard from Ma, his administration or the KMT.
The US financial storm has swept across the world over the past year, bringing economic turbulence and threatening a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression. People in Europe and the US are spending less, which has had a serious impact on Taiwan’s export-oriented economy. The global nature of the crisis is plain for all to see. However, Taiwan’s performance has been the worst of the four Asian “tiger” economies. This is why people have criticized the government’s competence.
Most of the measures the government has come up with in response to the crisis have been quick fixes, not long-term solutions: consumer vouchers, the Ministry of the Interior’s income support scheme for near-poor families, the Council of Labor Affairs’ “immediate back-to-work scheme,” the free school lunches for all elementary and junior-high school students and so on.
There is the rather belated plan to invest NT$500 billion (US$14.8 billion) in various projects, but the way the government has chosen to allocate this money makes it appear to be a case of subsidizing towns and counties under KMT control, while those ruled by the opposition complain they have been left out.
The government is also too reliant upon China’s goodwill. A year ago, Ma made great promises about how opening direct cross-strait transport links and allowing more Chinese tourists to visit would bring great benefits to Taiwan. However, few if any such benefits have been seen.
Ma called a diplomatic truce with China, but diplomatic relations with allies Paraguay, Panama and El Salvador are hanging by a thread. Then there is the matter of the World Health Assembly (WHA) scheduled for May in Geneva. The government has not announced whether Taiwan will apply to join the WHA as an associate member, as it has in past years, or apply to participate as an observer.
Nevertheless, the biggest failure of the Ma administration is not its China obsession. It is its failure to inform and consult the public. Not once since he came to office has Ma had a face-to-face exchange of views with opposition leaders. He plans to sign an economic cooperation framework agreement with China, but the public has little idea what such a pact would entail. Businesspeople and the public are tired of being left in the dark. Nobody really knows what Ma is trying to do. That is the real reason why his government is so unpopular.