It is almost a year since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) assumed office. His policies have been unimaginative, with nostalgia and increasing economic reliance on China emerging as main themes. Worringly, symbolic reminders of authoritarian rule are surfacing as the economy continues to sink. And although Ma won 58 percent of the vote last year, a recent Global View magazine poll showed that 58 percent of respondents were unhappy with his performance.
To a limited extent, late president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) set Taiwan on the path to democracy after decades of strongarm government and myriad rights abuses. Now, with the retirement of most of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) old guard, Ma is trying to boost his minor connection to Chiang by expanding activities commemorating the late president’s birthday — he would have been 100 this year. Ma has even taken to showing off an old photo of himself when he was Chiang’s English interpreter.
Although the KMT has complete control of the government, party cohesion has suffered from various centers of power — the Presidential Office, the Cabinet, the legislature and KMT headquarters — following different political agendas.
But Ma’s pledge to crack down on corruption has spurred the executive and judicial branches into action, catching leading KMT figures off guard and consolidating Ma’s authority.
On Friday the legislature approved the Cabinet’s NT$149.1 billion (US$4.4 billion) special budget to stimulate the economy and expand public construction. Ma brought together Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄), Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and KMT Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) for an unprecedented joint press conference in a show of KMT unity and political will, as well as to demonstrate Ma’s authority over the government, the legislature and his party.
The KMT’s relations with the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), on the other hand, are icy. This week, Presidential Office Secretary-General Chan Chuen-po (詹春柏) visited the DPP legislative caucus and invited DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to Chiang’s birthday celebrations.
For Tsai, commemorating Chiang in this way would have amounted to thumbing her nose at the DPP’s human rights agenda, given the persecution that took place under Chiang and his father. As expected, she turned down the invitation.
DPP legislative caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) responded by inviting Ma to the opposition’s second people’s conference on national affairs — then making seven demands of the government. As expected, Ma’s office rejected Ker’s invitation.
Tsai said that because Ma twice rejected invitations to the opposition’s national affairs conferences, the DPP would proceed with a major anti-government demonstration on May 17. So, once again, the government and the opposition are in deadlock amid this charade. Each places conditions on the very act of negotiating that the other cannot accept.
The public is increasingly concerned about the direction this government is taking. Calls for talks between the government and the opposition are growing louder. Ma and Tsai should acknowledge the gap that exists between government policy and public opinion, put aside petty politics and sit down to talk.
If they cannot bring themselves to do this, the blue-green division that has beset governance in this country will continue to be a source of national harm as much as electoral energy.