Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Ma hardly the sage king he reckons

By Pan FAN

President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration claims that incorruptibility is the main thing that distinguishes it from the administration of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). However, the recent scandal involving former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) has made this claim dubious at best, and reflects the difficult situation the government is in.

Prior to starting his second term, Ma tried to sell the public on his concept of fairness and justice. In this, however, he has been frustrated, not by the opposition’s policies, but rather by a lack of consensus within the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and its indifference toward public opinion. However, it is Ma himself who is responsible for the situation the KMT has found itself in.

First, Ma is trying to govern through morality, promoting the ideals of fairness and justice, but has disregarded the evolution of social values that has taken place within Taiwan’s diverse society over the past several decades. He is forcing his own idea of what fairness and justice means, without seeking any public consensus. This is why levying capital gains tax on securities transactions was so unpopular. It is not because the public does not understand the concept of justice, it is because the government has failed to see that one of the principles of levying taxes is to stabilize the economy, and thereby strengthen society.

The issue here is simply that Ma has his own idea of what justice is, and this is not the same one that exists within Taiwanese society. The government is only interested in using morality to reinforce its own policies, and ignores the fact that the prevailing sense of morality that exists within society is the result of a continuous dialogue and evolution of ideas.

Second, Ma subscribes to the traditional concept of the sage king and his protestations of incorruptibility are an evident reflection of this mindset. In the controversy over imports of US beef containing ractopamine residue and the ensuing dilemma of international trade pitted against concerns over public health, he insisted there was no timetable or pressure from the US. Rather than try to win the public over to his argument, he chose a containment strategy.

Confucianism seeks the ideal individual and the ideal government, and adopted the Taoist concept of non-action, of the sage king. However, Taiwan’s political system is not Confucian, it was imported from the West. Politicians derive their power from the electorate. The moral integrity of the ruler exists and operates within the context of the political system, and political leaders can use their moral integrity in the way they govern the country.

However, many of the government’s policies are the product of the political ideals of the leaders themselves. We see this in the hotly debated 12-year national curriculum: The government is pressing on with its own agenda despite public opposition and the real situation on the ground.

Finally, there is a sense that Ma has his mind set on his historical legacy for his second term, and ignores the fact that democracy is not about heroics or the decisions of the few. He had ample opportunities during his first term to determine his historical legacy.

Ma does not have the moral integrity of King Wei of Qi (齊威王), and he is not destined for greatness. All too often, he loses the initiative due to his preoccupation with convention. Emphasizing morality in government will only get in the way of government officials’ sense of reality. In an attempt to gain public trust, Ma bandies around statistics, oblivious to the fact that statistics are analytical tools, not results in themselves, something that any social scientist that has ever studied statistics knows. The entire country seems to have fallen for the myth that governance is all about chasing statistics, when really the important thing is the public’s perception of their lot. If the public is content, the leaders will remain in power. Because of this myth, the entire civil service is caught in this formalistic dilemma.

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