Yesterday marked seven years in office for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). On Monday there was a special international press conference, during which Ma ruminated on his performance. The latest opinion polls suggest an increase in his ratings, up from 9 percent. The polls are now showing only 60 to 70 percent of respondents are unhappy with his performance. Regardless, Ma has always been satisfied with his work, casting himself as the man who has set the foundations for the future, and saying he can sleep well at night. He does not seem to understand why many Taiwanese are worried about the future, and find themselves unable to sleep.
Ma likes to blame the previous administration, even as he approaches the end of his second term. He says that seven years ago he inherited a reeling nation. Back then, he was swept to power with campaign promises of “being prepared” and of delivering an economic growth rate of 6 percent, an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent and a yearly per capita income of more than US$30,000 within his first term, something he has utterly failed to do. Although the TAIEX has passed the 10,000 point mark, this is due to international factors rather than the decisions and efforts made by the government.
More serious is the way that the Ma administration has prioritized the wealthy over the lower and middle classes, and public servants over workers. This has increased greed and hampered equality within society, and in so doing exacerbated unfairness in inter-generational distribution of social welfare, while also increasing government debt and fostering more social frustration.
The Ma administration has generally shown itself to be pretty incompetent, with Cabinet changes coming thick and fast. Ma has had four premiers in seven years. Former premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) resigned to take responsibility for the government’s disastrous response to Typhoon Morakot, and ministers fell on their swords over the capital gains tax and second-generation health insurance fiascoes. More recently, a transportation minister resigned over high-speed rail reform proposals; an education minister left, not because of the 12-year curriculum reform proposals, but rather over a plagiarism scandal; a Mainland Affairs Council official stood down for unwittingly leaking confidential information; and several others have departed due to sex scandals. Each of them fell on their swords, but where does the responsibility ultimately lie?
Ma is particularly proud of the state of cross-strait relations. Taiwan has visa-exempt status with more than 140 countries, but being careful about what China thinks when Taiwan takes part in international events has at least kept relations with Beijing stable, to the extent that Taiwanese do not really remember who is in charge of foreign relations or national defense. However, the government’s pro-China, opaque way of doing things, such as the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and a service trade agreement, have caused much suspicion and dissatisfaction in Taiwan, which finally erupted into the Sunflower movement last year.
When asked why the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is having difficulties fielding a strong presidential candidate, he angrily responded that this is the party chairman’s responsibility. However, the KMT’s poor performance to this point, leading to unprecedentedly low popularity levels — not to say last year’s rout in the nine-in-one elections — should lie at the feet of the man who previous to the elections was concurrently president and party chairman.