During the presidential debate on Dec. 3, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) tried his hardest to use figures such as the economic growth rate and the unemployment rate to convince Taiwanese that he has achieved more while in office than former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had during his two terms.
Despite Ma’s recital of all these figures, it would seem that Taiwanese have no sense that the economy is improving. As Ma was indulging in figures that he himself considers so impressive, the public is feeling the exact opposite. If the lives of Taiwanese were as good as Ma thinks and better than when the Democratic Progressive Party was in office, then why do Ma’s re-election chances look so gloomy? We would do well by investigating these matters further.
First, Ma keeps harping on about how he has improved the economy. Taiwan experienced 10.72 percent growth this year, placing Taiwan in fourth place globally in terms of annual economic growth this year. However, what Ma has not commented on is that the gap between the rich and poor in Taiwan has also been widening further over the past few years.
The incomes of the richest households are 75 times higher than those of the poorest ones. The fruits of economic growth have not been distributed to everybody and this has not only caused economic inequality, it will also cause further gaps in education standards and social status in future. When department stores hold their huge, ever more profitable annual sales, the majority of these profits come from millionaires, not the middle class. Ma cannot see this because of his fixation with economic growth statistics.
In another example, the number of people who have applied to write exams for various levels of civil service has reached a new high of 750,000, according to information released by the Ministry of Examination on Wednesday last week. During Chen’s tenure, this number averaged about 400,000, with the highest being 520,000 in 2007.
What do these numbers show us? If Taiwan’s employment environment were really as good as Ma says it was, the number of people writing exams to become civil servants would not be constantly on the rise, even skyrocketing, as it has of late.
During Ma’s tenure, Taiwan’s job market has witnessed the emergence of all kinds of worrying phenomena, such as unpaid leave, excessive overwork and an increase in the use of the responsibility system of employment — where employees are paid for completing tasks assigned to them, rather than working fixed hours — which have jeopardized workers’ rights. The huge numbers of people now writing exams in the hope of obtaining civil service positions, viewed as more stable, is an inevitable result of the anxiety the uncertainty of the job market has caused.
If Ma keeps on citing only numbers that make him look good while ignoring numbers that make him look bad, Taiwanese voters will surely let him know how they really feel.
Lo Chih-cheng is a Democratic Progressive Party legislative candidate.
Translated by Drew Cameron