There was no political comment made over the past week that was more incomprehensible, insensible and shocking than what President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said at a university presidents’ forum at Kun Shan University in Greater Tainan on Thursday — a remark that reflected Ma’s personality and the characteristics of his administration.
Ma urged the university presidents to boldly carry out their plan of raising tuition fees, citing as an example his policy of increasing electricity and fuel prices. He said the controversial energy policy was “a matter of habit,” and that people were unhappy when it was introduced but have now become used to the weekly changes in the floating fuel price mechanism.
The antagonizing comment was not made by accident, as Ma is known for making senseless comments in public, such as his comment that a nuclear power plant could be demolished if necessary and telling a student that he could have two lunch boxes if one is not enough.
Coming from a president, these comments neither solve problems nor soothe the public during turbulent times of economic uncertainty and hardship. On the contrary, the more comments like these Ma makes, the more the public realizes how disconnected their leader has become from them.
Netizens wasted no time taking a jab at Ma for Thursday’s comments with various satires posted on Internet forums. They jokingly said they could not help but agree that they have become used to Ma’s stupidity and subpar governance over the past years.
The myth of the obedient nature of Taiwanese has been repeatedly raised for nearly a century, dating back to the Japanese colonial period when the head of civilian affairs under Japanese ruler Shinpei Goto described Taiwanese as having three weaknesses: “fear of death, greed and vanity.” The Japanese also described Taiwanese as “easy to govern, hard to teach (好管難教).”
Perhaps the description was true, as people in Taiwan, who were ruled by a number of foreign regimes over the past 400 years, felt they could not do anything to bring about change in the political-economic structure and grew accustomed to griping and moaning before moving on with their lives.
However, if Ma and his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration assume that those traits still reside with Taiwanese, they would be making a grave mistake. The people of Taiwan, while having a mild and friendly nature, have also had enough of the nation’s current situation. They have decided to disprove the century-old myth of obedience and tolerance, if last year’s events serve as an indication of the future.
Taiwanese tried to tell the government they would no longer tolerate injustice, lack of transparency, unfairness and incompetence in the administration. People marched in the streets to voice their opposition to unfair land expropriation, the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City (新北市), the controversial death of a soldier and the opaque signing of the cross-strait service trade agreement. They mobilized netizens for causes they felt worth fighting for, such as the flawed electronic toll collection system. The civil disobedience movement was once again brought up and discussed.
People in democratized Taiwan who have witnessed two regime changes are capable of determining their own destiny more than ever. Ma would be advised to get used to this fact as soon as possible.