This past week has been a bad one for Taiwan, its military and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
Starting with Ma: For anyone who has followed his career and lackluster performances closely, he has been the perfect example of the Peter Principle writ large.
Aided by the general public’s short memory and excessive tolerance, Ma, in true Peter Principle fashion, has been able to advance, while avoiding any serious accountability and any strong, actual accomplishments.
He has managed this with a combination of smiles, public relations, platitudes and a strategy of replacing failed promises with new ones where he would definitely “look into the matter.”
Finally, of course, if all this fails, he can still fall back on passing the buck to others. However, this past week was different. Ma’s traditional methods failed and Taiwanese people indicated that they had finally had enough. Ironically, the tipping point came through a key area that Ma regularly depends on, but one that he fears trying to control, the military.
It was the death of army corporal Hung Chung-chiu (洪仲丘) on July 4 that began this unraveling. Hung died in questionable and suspicious circumstances with only two days left of his military service.
The changes to Hung’s death certificate from initially stating that the cause of death was accidental, to “homicide” and requiring investigation in less than a month only added to the suspicion. Nonetheless, after Hung’s death, in a traditional show of sympathy, Ma visited Hung’s family and promised to get to the bottom of things (note the word “promise”).
Unfortunately for Hung’s family, the days and weeks went by and nothing happened. The military even tried to suggest that the fault and cause might lie with Hung himself.
As the details surrounding Hung’s death began to leak out, his family not only countered this, but also suggested that a military cover-up was in progress.
On Saturday Aug. 3, a massive protest organized by private citizens took place in Taipei with over 200,000 in attendance.
Taiwanese, fed up with the lack of progress on this and other issues, were calling for justice, transparency and results.
The next day, a month after Hung’s death, when his family gathered for the funeral, a second surprise occurred.
Despite growing suspicions of a cover-up, and with seemingly nothing being done, Ma, in true public relations form, again showed up to give a second show of sympathy and a second set of promises “to get to the bottom of it.”
However, the Hung family and their neighbors would have none of it and refused Ma’s visit.
In effect they were saying: “We are done with this canned showmanship. We can’t fake it anymore; we can’t go through the motions that all is well, and that you, the president, care.”
The Peter Principle’s chickens had come home to roost and were being recorded on national TV.
A standoff ensued for some 20 minutes or more.
Here were Taiwanese denying entrance to their president because of his lack of action.
Local Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Yang Chiung-ying (楊瓊瓔) and other party members were there; their credibility, jobs and their loyalty to the president on the line, so they could of course still “fake it,” but the people could not accept the inaction.
Finally, the family did meet with Ma; their justified criticisms again recorded on national TV for future replay in unavoidable accountability.