Sat, Jan 14, 2012 - Page 8 News List


A lesson from Singapore?

As a Singaporean who has a strong affinity with Taiwan, I am deeply saddened by the direction in which the country seems to be heading since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) assumed office almost four years ago.

In my view, Ma’s gravest mistake, which could severely disrupt the social order in Taiwan if left unrectified, is to allow the influx of Chinese students and tourists into the country.

Singapore faced a similar problem in the mid-2000s — by allowing an uncontrolled inflow of foreigners into the city-state, which led to public unhappiness over several issues, including overcrowding on public transportation systems and rising property prices.

Sensing growing public anger over the competition from foreigners and new immigrants, the Singaporean government began to take steps to slow down the inflow of immigrants and foreign workers in 2009. The government also sharpened the distinction between citizens and non-citizens by giving more benefits to citizens in key areas, such as education.

It was a case of too little, too late, as voters displayed their unhappiness at the polls in May last year. For the first time in Singapore’s history, two ministers were voted out of office, while the opposition won 40 percent of the votes cast.

Post-election, the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) appointed a committee to review ministerial salaries — another issue that has angered many Singaporeans during the past two decades.

Recent political developments and changes in Singapore would not have been possible if voters did not push for these through their sacred votes.

In all likelihood, any political observer who compares the performance of the PAP in fulfilling its electoral promises with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) campaign pledges would argue that the former has done much better in delivering on its promises.

To be fair to the PAP, it has served Singaporeans well and pretty fairly over the past few decades. That said, voters’ educational backgrounds today are different from those in the past and it is only to be expected that we have higher expectations of our political leaders today.

Ma embarked on a catchy and aggressive “6-3-3” campaign to woo voters four years ago. Indeed, he promised much, but delivered little.

Ma has failed to achieve an annual economic growth rate of 6 percent, an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent and per capita income of more than US$30,000.

Since these three areas are number-specific, the next-best course of action for Ma is to highlight other accomplishments that cannot be measured in numbers.

One of these, as he would like voters to believe, is cross-strait relations. However, I find it baffling that Ma can claim that cross-strait ties today are better than those during former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) era, especially since there are more Chinese missiles pointed at Taiwan today.

So what exactly has Ma achieved?

Is Taiwan now a more democratic country than it was during Chen’s administration?

I doubt it, given the number of smear attacks launched against Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in recent weeks.

Are Taiwanese better off today, in terms of wages and living conditions, compared with a few years ago?

Again, I doubt it.

I concur with Tsai, who says stability exists when “people wake up in the morning knowing that they have a job, have a house to live in when they get off work and can put food on the table.”

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