The primary goal of any elected politician is to be re-elected — and this is increasingly becoming the only effective mechanism for democratic constraint. However, due to the term limits, a president in his second term of office cannot be re-elected. This may be helping to unlock the constraints on presidential powers which have allowed the incumbent greater spoils of power. Recently, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been displaying the power and arrogance of a president in his final term in his handling of the Cabinet reshuffle and the treatment of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) in his request for medical parole.
Why did Ma appoint his trusted aides to handle both cross-strait and Taiwan-US relations? Why has he not replaced incompetent financial and economic officials? And why did he allow Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) — who has failed to satisfy the public — to continue in his ineffective role? Because, without the pressure of having to win another election, Ma no longer listens to voters and the main thing for him now is to enjoy his power. What can be more enjoyable than appointing his close friend, former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) secretary-general King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), as de facto ambassador to the US, despite his lack of qualifications for the role?
Public criticism further highlights Ma’s unpopularity as head of state. For Ma, talk of systems, practices, standards and experience are seen as ways to prevent him enjoying his power. Perhaps this feeling can only be understood by comparing it to the excitement that ancient Roman dictators felt as they watched Rome go up in flames.
Apart from bullying the public, what can be more satisfying than abusing one’s predecessor from the enemy camp?
Ma’s satisfaction reached a climax earlier this month when Taipei Prison allegedly fed Chen two liters of water and then prohibited him from going to the bathroom in private in order to observe his urinating difficulties.
In ancient times, Roman gladiators were used to divert people’s attention from their daily dissatisfactions through the spilling of slave blood in the many amphitheaters — although such dramatic events can hardly compete with Ma’s use of government power to slowly and constantly “torture” Chen in the name of justice. The fact that Chen — a former two-term president — has been abused in public over the past few years, may be enjoyable for some, but it also creates a sense of fear.
Enjoying power in this way is different from the redistribution of other people’s resources through fuel and electricity price hikes. Instead, it is about the joy of determining the degree and type of hardship that one’s political enemies must bear. Does Ma want Chen to suffer dementia and lose his intellectual capacities, to suffer incontinence or even go insane?
Unfortunately, such behavior seems to be a source of joy for Taiwan’s democratically elected head of state. This new type of “democratic dictatorship” should be made an example in our textbooks.
Obviously, the chaos caused by Ma in his last term is just beginning. With the combining of local elections, the number of national polls have been reduced and so has the voice of the Taiwanese. Faced with low approval ratings, the exercise and enjoyment of power has become the focus for Ma’s policy. Meanwhile, as predicted by the opposition, the legislature voted down their no-confidence vote against the premier on Saturday. It raises concerns that democratic Taiwan has become the private domain of a president who does not have to worry about re-election.