On May 20, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) will be sworn in for a second term in office, which presents us with an excellent opportunity to ask just what he has achieved over the past four years. According to Ma’s own assessment, the two things he is most proud of are fostering the most peaceful cross-strait relations in 60 years and inking the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China.
However, just as Ma’s first term in office is about to come to an end, the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics announced that it is cutting its economic growth projection for this year to 3.3 percent and the Consumer Price Index is forecast to rise by 1.94 percent over the same period, though it could yet rise beyond 2 percent. These data offer a stark contrast to all the promises and guarantees Ma and Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) made in 2008. A comparison of what they said and what has actually happened would seem to confirm that for some people, politics is merely a game of smoke and mirrors.
When Ma says cross-strait relations are at their most peaceful in 60 years, he is of course claiming to have done a better job than former presidents Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Just as Ma’s second term is about to start, the vast majority of people probably hope the nation will move forward and that government administration will not further deteriorate. We should therefore compare things objectively using measurements relevant to daily life to see what Ma achieved during his first term in office.
First, let us look at unemployment. During his 10 years in office, Chiang Ching-kuo adopted a “three noes” policy toward China and between 1978 and 1988, the unemployment rate remained below 3 percent, peaking at 2.91 percent in 1985. It is a well-known fact that the backdrop to this period was the 1973 oil crisis and its negative impact on international economic growth. Lee adopted the “no haste, be patient” policy toward China, and during his 12 years in office, from 1988 to 2000, the unemployment rate hovered between 1 percent and 2 percent, apart from 1999, when it peaked at 2.92 percent.
During the first six of his eight years in office, Chen adopted an “active opening, effective management” policy toward China and the unemployment rate started to rise, peaking at 5.17 percent in 2002. For the remainder of his two terms in office, unemployment was under 4 percent. In 2006, Chen realized that the nation needed to avoid over-reliance on China, and that was when his administration adopted the “active management, effective opening” policy, as a result of which unemployment began to fall, reaching 3.91 percent in 2007.
What about Ma? After coming to power in May 2008, Ma put an end to what he characterized as harmful “isolationism” and embraced a policy of comprehensive opening up to China. As a result, unemployment hit a record high of 5.85 percent in 2009. In 2010, unemployment was still 5.21 percent, the second-highest ever. Last year, it was 4.39 percent and the average for January to March this year was 4.2 percent. Every year of Ma’s term in office, unemployment has been higher than when Chen’s second term ended.
However, if we are talking about creating unemployment, then, Ma is clearly the best president ever, though his success in this regard has caused Taiwanese more pain than joy.