In July last year, when President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) first made known his intention to run for re-election as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman this year, several KMT members expressed reservations about the impact of the president’s plummeting approval ratings on the party.
Now, less than two months away from the KMT national congress on July 20, during which it is slated to elect its chairman, Ma has helped the cause of those who want him to stop doubling as party chairman after he was caught dozing off while presiding over a flood-prevention meeting at the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center on Monday.
Some may be quick to come to the president’s defense, seeing the episode as a petty incident.
Ma is no superman and when the sleep bug bites, he can feel drowsy and doze off just like anyone else.
However, that has not reduced the shock for many people: The image of a sleepy Ma having a hard time keeping his eyelids open was replayed on various news channels throughout the day, which — coincidentally — also marked the first anniversary of Ma’s second term in office.
How is Ma expected to convince the public that he could lead the nation to a bright and promising future in his remaining three years in office when he looked drowsy and tired on the day marking the first anniversary of his second term? And need we add that Ma had already canceled a visit that day to National Yunlin University of Science and Technology in southern Taiwan, where he had been scheduled to hold an international press conference on the first anniversary of his second presidential term.
No one ever said that being the head of a state while doubling as a party chairman is easy. And in view of the approaching seven-in-one elections next year — the biggest elections in the nation’s history — the load on party chairpersons is going to be even heavier.
As Ma is already struggling to deliver a satisfactory performance juggling two positions, many are concerned about the nation’s prospects under a head of state whose attention is divided between state and party affairs.
When Ma first broke his pledge not to double as president and party chairman, he said the decision was prompted by his “sense of responsibility — to secure the nation’s competitiveness and enhance government performance by facilitating cooperation between the party and the government.
However, Ma’s continually poor approval rating in various polls over the years has inspired nothing but skepticism about his claim.
There have been media reports that signature drives to support Ma’s re-election bid for the KMT chairmanship had begun early this month — way ahead of the party’s official registration period. At this critical period, Ma would be well-advised to reconsider his bid for another stint as KMT chairman and instead focus on state affairs.
Honoring his previous pledge to be a “president of the people (全民總統)” and focusing on his presidential responsibilities would be a good first step for Ma to regain the public’s respect and support.