As President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) first term in office draws to a close, public resentment at his policies is being voiced from all quarters and his approval rating is lingering somewhere between 10 to 20 percent.
Last week the Chinese-language weekly The Journalist (新新聞) conducted a survey asking people which of the four presidents who have held office since the end of martial law had made the greatest contribution to the nation. Ma was at the bottom of the list, placed even lower than his predecessor Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), who is languishing in prison after being convicted of corruption on Ma’s watch.
Four years ago, Ma was elected by a landslide 58 percent of the vote, but now he is perhaps the least popular head of state the nation has ever had. It takes a special kind of genius to achieve such a turnaround.
Maybe Ma feels so secure in his position that the way people rank him historically is of no concern to him and he will simply continue adding fuel to the fire. It may not matter to him, but the nation as a whole is suffering as a result of his bad leadership. It has to be said that Taiwanese chose the wrong president once and have now repeated the mistake.
Why is Ma getting pilloried? The short-term reason is the pain people are feeling as a result of a series of policy blunders his administration has made over the past few months. However, Ma’s incompetence and arrogance did not start yesterday. He has been responsible for innumerable policy failures ever since he was mayor of Taipei. While voters have given him their approval several times, the negative effects of his policies have made themselves felt more and more clearly after each successive election.
Such is the nature of democracy — you cast your vote and bear the consequences. Taiwan, however, is a country under threat of invasion by an enemy state. If we choose the wrong president, it could mean the end of Taiwan as we know it. The ultimate consequence of repeatedly choosing the wrong person to do the country’s most important job may be yet to come.
Although many celebrities and wealthy businesspeople who publicly supported Ma’s re-election bid are now saying they regret it, the sad thing is that what is done is done and there is little anyone can do to change it. Therein lies Taiwan’s biggest crisis.
The root of the problem is Ma’s predilection for surrounding himself with a handful of trusted appointees and forming policy behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, Ma’s most recent appointments indicate that he is set to go on doing things in the same old way. Although the public is seething over policies like permitting US beef containing ractopamine, introducing a capital gains tax on securities transactions and raising fuel and electricity prices, it has not been enough to cause Ma to change direction or adjust his policies.
Unlike the French and the Greeks, Taiwanese have not voted an unpopular leader out of office. The way an opposition motion to recall Ma was blocked in the legislature last week highlights the public’s frustration and helplessness. Knowing that we voted for the wrong person is worrying enough, but what is worse is that now we have no way of changing things, and this will lead to a host of problems.
Everyone knows that the man is no good. The first four years were pretty unbearable and now he has another four years in which to do more of the same.