Tuesday was the sixth anniversary of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration. A lot of people in the nation will be well aware of the impact this president has had on Taiwan over the past six years.
His personality flaws and lack of leadership ability have seriously impeded the government’s ability to govern, to the detriment of the nation’s social progress and development.
Ma still has two years of his final term to go, but a rather strange psychological phenomenon has emerged: Many people are of the opinion that he should not really do anything meaningful in the remainder of his time in office. These voices far outnumber those who think he should attempt to do something substantial with the remainder of his time.
Taxpayers shell out generously for the monthly salaries of elected heads of government and even for their pensions after they have left office, but many would be fine with Ma idling his time away when he goes to work every day.
That way, he would avoid messing things up any more than he has already.
From this perspective, it does not matter how much it costs the taxpayer. How did it come to this, with these problems surrounding Ma and his inner sanctum of cronies?
It is important that the public understands the root cause of this mess, so that we can draw conclusions from it and learn our lessons from it. Otherwise the electorate will just make the same mistakes again, at great cost to the nation.
In terms of policy and governance, the first thing to ascertain is what kind of person Ma is. At heart, Ma is an elitist with some democratic beliefs, who occasionally drops the ideals of democracy to reveal himself as a straight-up elitist.
Political elitism is anti-democratic, or is at least distrustful of democracy and subscribers to this model believe that having an elite political class responsible for governing a country is the natural order of things.
An elite ruling class with highly developed organizational skills monopolizing political power and invested with the legitimacy to oversee the affairs of the masses was a situation first described by the Italian political theorist Gaetano Mosca.
Moreover, as Austrian-American economist and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter observed, even if elections are the means by which political power is obtained, the political elite still tends to view democracy as a political model and elections simply as a method of legitimizing their political power.
Ma has resisted debating the referendum threshold on the grounds of strong voter turnout in presidential and legislative elections over the past decade.
He has even said that direct democracy, including recourse to initiatives — such as petitions — and referendums, are all exceptions, with representative politics being the norm.
Voter turnout for presidential elections and referendum thresholds are two different things, but Ma has repeatedly said that his early opposition to direct democracy and preference for delegative elections are born of the same rationale.
The problem is not just about believing himself to be part of an elite and the sense of hubris that entails. Ever since he assumed political office, Ma has favored employing close and trusted associates as part of his policymaking inner circle, forming a clearly structured hierarchy.
Thus he allows people into his immediate circle based upon how close he is to them, creating a concentric command structure with himself in the center, populating progressively larger outer circles with others, depending on his relationship and history with them.