Following the swearing-in of Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲), the bold and highly efficient nature of his administration soon became apparent. Accordingly, Ko’s popularity soared, as he became a media favorite. However, those who rise to the top must endure criticism.
With the focus constantly on Ko, his every word and deed is cast into the public sphere. Most discussion has centered around Ko’s public statements, which lack gloss and at times appear abrasive.
For example, during a public event Ko gave Xinyi District Police Precinct Chief Lee Te-wei (李德威) a public dressing down, and on Wednesday, Ko, feeling uncomfortable about dancing in public, let off a verbal rebuke toward a member of his staff, Hsu Li-min (許立民), declaring the dancing element of the event to be “clowning around” and “showing off.”
Perhaps many will believe this to be a manifestation of Ko’s personality: blunt and to-the-point, open and transparent; in sharp contrast to the average government official’s affectations and sugar-coated words. Certainly, Ko’s lack of hypocrisy and his domineering style can be seen as a breath of fresh air.
However, he needs to clearly delineate his public and private spheres. When he is wearing his “Ko Wen-je” hat, he is representing himself and may, within reason, do or say what he likes without worrying too much about what others might think.
Conversely, when he is wearing his “Mayor Ko” hat, he is an ambassador for Taipei; his every word and action is inseparably connected to the people he represents. With his mayor hat on, no matter what he says or does, particularly when it is related to official business, Ko must be cautious and circumspect.
Perhaps Ko does not enjoy shaking his hips and wiggling his bottom in public. However, no matter what happens, Ko should refrain from telling the media this is “clownish” or “showing off.” Otherwise, is he not branding all the other participants as clowns and show-offs?
When in the public sphere, the mayor belongs to all Taipei residents as their public servant. Even though the original program did not include the dancing element, as a face-saving exercise on behalf of all Taipei residents, he should have shaken off any personal inhibitions and given precedence to the public interest.
If Ko was dissatisfied with any element of the proceedings, rather than hastily admonishing his staff in public, he should have raised his concerns in a meeting after the event.
In ancient China it was said that “if politics is the management of the public’s affairs, policymaking should seek to harmonize the power of the masses.” Ko’s energetic style and lack of hypocrisy should be commended.
Nevertheless, if he is able to get a firmer grip on the propriety of his words and behavior in both public and private spheres, he will surely find the implementation of his wider strategic plan for Taipei to be a smoother and more successful process.
Hsu Yu-fang is a professor of Chinese literature at National Chengchi University.
Translated by Edward Jones
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