For Taiwan it is far more important to examine the effect this has on the selection of personnel. People that serve in the Ma administration do not necessarily have to have the best accomplishments in their particular area or field. Instead they will be known by their ability to avoid mistakes in “doing nothing.” In addition to this, of course, will be their loyalty to Ma and his image.
Thus, when the article in the Economist came out, the first evident thing that Ma’s people did was to focus on image control.
All sorts of excuses came out. It was the magazine’s fault for not putting “bumbler” in quotation marks; the media were at fault for misrepresentation and we even had the explanation that bumbler can translate into Mandarin in more ways than one.
No one focused on the o.bvious: that progress was lacking. No, this time image control proved more difficult than Ma’s yes-men anticipated.
Whether Ma is a bumbler is open to question, but more important is the fact that given the method of how his subordinates are chosen, there is a good chance that they will be bumblers in policy development and performance. This is something that even Ma’s own party, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) admits to.
With ample talent in the party, they question why Ma sets such loyalty as well as “do nothing” constraints on those beneath him, especially when he must realize that sooner or later platitudes and promises will not do the trick.
At this point some will object that Ma has made positive, albeit pie-in-the-sky, projections and efforts such as 6-3-3 or the Golden Decade, but as for defining his administration these do not seem to be a place where any want to go.
There is one final factor that becomes clear. Surrounded by image-protecting subordinates who can define performance by “doing nothing,” neither Ma nor his administration know how to work democratically with others, including the Democratic Progressive Party.
Ma lives in a world where he expects compliance and belief in platitudes and promises. If there is failure, his subordinates must fall on their swords.
All well and good for Ma’s image, but as for progress on the national level and a resolution of the many problems facing this fledgling democracy, this is not enough.
So what can Taiwan expect for the next three years? If it continues to define itself by negatives, and the protection of Ma’s image, the future is not that bright.
At best it will bumble along; at worst, those that benefit most from Ma’s placating negativity will seize their opportunity
Jerome Keating is a commentator in Taipei.