As a leader who won a decisive re-election in January, President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration for a second term yesterday was short on celebratory atmosphere, with barbed-wired barricades blocking off areas near the Presidential Office from protesters.
Ma is probably the first president in the nation’s history to be inaugurated amid a large-scale protest that included not only pan-green groups, but also many who voted for him.
For a president who enjoyed more than 60 percent public support at the start of his first term, Ma has no one but himself to blame for his plunging popularity and he now faces daunting tasks ahead.
He has insisted that his government’s recent policies, including a proposal to relax the ban on US beef containing the livestock feed additive ractopamine to electricity and fuel price hikes, are necessary.
However, Ma’s determination to press ahead with “bold reforms” reflects his administration’s arbitrary policy making process, its poor communication with the legislative branch and its feeble public relations.
In face of unprecedented public discontent, Ma made a series of apologetic comments on Friday and Saturday, saying that he felt sorry that his government’s policies had caused inconvenience and generated a sense of unease among the public. However, he stopped short of offering a formal apology and failed to outline solid solutions to the problematic policies.
Ma’s inauguration speech yesterday lacked zest: He prioritized domestic issues by pledging to boost economic growth, narrow the wealth gap and pursue social justice, but his pledge to turn Taiwan into a nation of happiness was vague and context-free.
His remarks on cross-strait relations lacked substance and he avoided addressing the sensitive issue of possible political negotiations with China by reiterating the three noes — “no unification, no independence and no use of force” as well as the so-called “1992 consensus.”
On national defense, Ma repeated the government’s position that it will maintain a small, but strong defensive force and continue US arms purchases.
While Ma tried to paint a positive picture of the future, the situation will worsen in his second term, where he faces big challenges. China has been increasing pressure on his administration to enter into cross-strait political negotiations and it will press harder for a peace treaty during his second term.
Although Ma renewed his promise to maintain the cross-strait status quo under the three noes, this pledge will not stop Beijing from using its economic might to force Taiwan into political negotiations, especially as the government is scheduled to complete peripheral negotiations linked to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) over the next two years.
Economically, with Europe’s debt crisis threatening further global financial instability, Taiwan’s outlook is far from positive and a recession could impact its slow recovery and worsen unemployment.
In his second term, Ma must avoid becoming too heavily reliant on China economically and must carry out his promise to protect national sovereignty while also seeking further economic ties with China.
It is important that Taiwan inks more global free-trade deals and it should play an active role in regional economic integration. It is also crucial that the government presents stimulus measures and encourages investment to boost local industries’ competitiveness.