In 2008, then-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) made economic revival the focus of his election campaign, aggressively promoting his “6-3-3” pledge (annual GDP growth of 6 percent, annual per capita income of US$30,000 and an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent per year) and the slogan “We are ready.”
However, as the next presidential election approaches, Ma has stopped talking about the economy and standard of living — with the exception of bragging about how he had slashed the price of cooking rice wine. Instead, his remarks now focus on the so-called “1992 consensus” and cross-strait relations, as he attempts to direct the presidential election with the help of the “one China” issue that the KMT and Chinese Communist Party have purportedly defined between themselves.
It seems Taiwan is now a model of harmony and happiness where everyone is both wealthy and healthy and where problems related to the economy or standard of living no longer exist.
It is not very difficult to understand why Ma has shifted the focus from the economy to political issues: The economic promises he made then, including his “6-3-3” campaign pledge and forecast that the local stock market would break 10,000 points, are no longer worth the paper they were written on. Add to this the government’s failure to effectively respond to the economic crisis in the US and the eurozone debt dilemma.
To avoid shooting himself in the foot, Ma has therefore been compelled to play up the political unification-independence issue. Only by manipulating this issue can he bring the election campaign down to a political war of words between the pan-blue and the pan-green camps. This attempt to avoid economic issues and force voters to align themselves along pan-blue and pan-green ideological lines is proof of the government’s incompetence.
Most economic problems are of course a product of the macroenvironment. A good example of this is how Ma routinely blames the difficult economic situation on the global financial crisis. However, problems such as an expanding wealth gap, the working poor and youth unemployment are getting worse, and a feeling of relative deprivation is spreading throughout society.
These issues are not simply economic issues, but manifestations of the government’s incompetence: They are the result of the government’s inability to adapt and respond to rapid changes in the global environment.
Ma is still using the same destructive and wasteful ideas he adopted during his tenure as Taipei mayor. In addition to using government resources to consolidate pan-blue voter support, he issues debt and continues to waste money left and right to make up for his administration’s bad economic performance.
Today, as globalization is seeping into every corner of the nation, the role and the importance of the government in confronting economic challenges have changed.
A responsible and capable government must insist on promoting justice and fairness, caring for the disadvantaged and promoting the development of local economies to protect the general public who are being marginalized by globalization. It should not work against these goals: deepen social divisions and use politics to tear Taiwan asunder.
Ma has given us four years of broken promises and now he is talking about how he will create a “golden decade.” Who dares believe him?