Speaking at two different places within one week, former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) recently expressed a very optimistic view on the prospects of the pan-green camp and called for unity among opposition supporters. Not long ago, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) also made a strong call for unity.
In the past, former president Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國), often told the public to think and act “with one heart,” and some wondered what purpose and whose interests this unity was supposed to serve. Even now, the word “unity,” brings the same question to mind almost like a reflex.
It is now more than a decade into the 21st century. What is the right orientation for today’s Taiwan?
Neither of nation’s two main parties has been able to give a clear answer to this question — whether they are in government or opposition. It seems that democracy has been whittled down to a matter of elections, which are just a matter of slogans.
Taiwanese, tamed by long years of dictatorship, think that they have the chance to vote in elections they are the masters of their own house. At election time, people always vote for a candidate who they believe has a chance of winning, because only then do they feel they have a chance to decide their own fate.
As a result, the pan-blue and pan-green parties have come to be the only two choices, no matter what their policies and values may be and what kind of candidates they put forward.
Elections of this sort are a gamble, and when the die is cast, the winners will always be the leaders of the pan-blue or pan-green camps. Ordinary people — the voters who place their bets — only get to enjoy the thrill of democracy for a brief moment amid the excitement when the results are announced.
What of the winners?
Once they are in government, their popularity soon starts to slide. Former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) approval rate slithered down to 18 percent, and Ma’s has sunk even lower, to 9 percent.
Why do Taiwanese always elect candidates who are popular in opinion polls, but perform poorly once they are in government?
On Tuesday last week, the online forum of the Chinese-language Apple Daily ran a very impressive commentary by columnist Yang Chao (楊照) entitled “Finding a presidential candidate who ‘has a life.’”
Yang said the leaders of the pan-blue and pan-green camps, such as Chen, Ma and leading Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) figures Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌), Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), are all elite figures. They are highly qualified and very eloquent. They have no bad habits, and their lives are so pure and simple that they have probably never spent time wining and dining with their friends.
However, when people like these become president, they always fail to give the country a sense of direction. They have no principles, they do not understand the hardships that ordinary people go through and they have a distinct lack of empathy.
Rarely, if ever, does a great presidential candidate turn out to be a great president, because candidates are good at pandering to voters, whereas leaders are supposed to lead the nation and open up new vistas.
Sometimes leaders need the guts to stand up against populism and malicious forces. Ma lacks that kind of courage.