As the seven-in-one elections draw near, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is staggering into the remaining years of his second and final term in office.
For the past six years, he has been working feverishly on both his image and legacy. However, despite his public relations efforts, he now faces an unexpected and unwanted result.
Unknowingly, unintentionally and certainly unwillingly he has been helping level the playing field between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).
Such a statement may seem overtly contentious, for the KMT unquestionably remains the richest party, commanding resources and war chests far greater than all opposition parties in Taiwan combined.
It could be decades, if not a century, before this wealth gap is bridged.
So, how then is the playing field becoming more level?
The reasons lie elsewhere and are diverse; but, in brief, they are found in how Ma has destroyed any remaining mythical image of capability or statesmanship that the KMT acquired from its one-party state days. That and the enigmatic “duck effect.” Yes, despite Ma’s wishes, the times they are a-changing.
Starting with the duck effect: What is it and how does it apply? Briefly, most people admire the peaceful image that ducks create as they sail smoothly on the surface of a lake. Their motion seems so calm, cool and effortless, at least on the surface — and there is the key: If one looks beneath the surface, the ducks’ webbed feet are paddling furiously to keep balance and maintain speed and direction.
An image of calm is what nations and politicians seek to project; that whatever the outside circumstances and turmoil, all is under control and progressing on course. Politicians spend millions on spin doctors to create an image of harmony and grace under pressure.
These agents and others are the hired ducks that must paddle furiously to keep a progressive stable image.
Such an image was originally easy for the KMT to maintain as it ran its one-party state in Taiwan from 1945 to 1987, since in essence, it controlled everything — the military, government and education — as well as the media.
Media glossed over the KMT’s deficits and embellished its achievements. If there were any dissenting voices, those people soon found themselves on Green Island or worse.
This was the situation that Ma was raised in and returned to in 1981 after studying in the US. He then entered the government at a rank higher than most and witnessed how the media ducks in the service of the KMT state supported its actions with platitudes, slogans and select examples of success.
This changed, of course, when multiple parties and diverse media were allowed to form in the late 1980s.
These now began to legally question and challenge the KMT’s interpretation of history.
Nonetheless, the 40-plus years of indoctrination on how growth and the Taiwan Miracle were solely the gift of the KMT to what they referred to as the taibazi (Taiwanese redneck, 台巴子) was hard to overcome. This, and many Taiwanese intelligentsia being “eliminated” after the 228 Incident, cast a mythical aura over the KMT’s capabilities.
Fast forward to Ma’s election to president in 2008. He was KMT, but part of the “new Taiwanese”: He would draw on KMT talent, create another economic miracle (that included China), root out corruption and set the nation on a forward course.