“The establishment of a democratic system is only the first step toward human rights guarantees. A popularly elected government that is not monitored and does not follow the law, but continues to violate the law and abuse its power, will create discrimination and opposition. If we want to build a normal democratic society, it will be necessary to actively improve Taiwan’s political, economic and social human rights. If we do not, Taiwanese democracy will become but an empty shell. The government’s legal violations and abuse of power and social injustice will not disappear simply as a result of democracy’s good name,” President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said in 2008 in A Declaration of Human Rights for Taiwan in the New Century.
There is no way of knowing how many of the 7.65 million people who voted for Ma in the March 2008 presidential election did so because they were moved by and believed in his declaration. However, one could imagine that if they were to reread this declaration today, a majority would not only feel that it is both absurd and ironic, but also tragic and painful. If people agree that the purpose of the state is to see to it that everyone has a fair opportunity to pursue their own goals and realize their individual values by implementing human rights, then there is no doubt that over the past seven years, Ma has not only failed to bring Taiwan closer toward this goal, but instead has led the nation further from it.
Many pundits have said that Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) lost the 2012 presidential election because she did not have the strength to make it to the finish line, but there are in fact different interpretations as to whether that assessment is correct.
In contrast, it is clear that if society had not been aroused, Ma’s presidency would have caused overall national development to regress significantly. Over and again, Ma’s actions have made it clear that he is an inept helmsman that has brought Taiwan off course. He is a stubborn head of state who consistently insists on running contrary to public opinion.
When it comes to political human rights, Ma has declared that the government may not break the law and abuse its power, that all political wiretapping is prohibited and that a simple registration system should be applied for assembly and demonstrations so that the streets can be returned to the public.
However, from the violence that occurred in 2008 when then-Chinese Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) visited Taiwan to the bloody suppression of the occupation of the Executive Yuan by student protesters in March last year, the public have seen firsthand how the Ma government arbitrarily resorts to violence and breathes new life in the ghost of martial law.
In particular, Ma used wiretaps illegally provided to him by the prosecutor-general to launch an open attack on the legislative speaker, thus interfering directly with the legislature in an attempt to eliminate the speaker and thoroughly paralyze the legislature’s function of overseeing the Cabinet. In doing so, he did not think twice about overstepping the boundaries of constitutional democracy, and he used the respected presidential position to direct the destruction of constitutional order and the political situation, and bring the whole country into a state of chaos, almost destroying the fruits of the Taiwanese public’s struggles and sacrifices overnight.
Even after the bitter “September strife,” when he tried to oust Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平), Ma has continued to stick to his guns and does not have the sense to put any restraints on his own powers. Ma directed the attempt to force an opaque cross-strait service trade agreement through the legislature and praised Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Chang Ching-chung (張慶忠) for pushing the agreement to legislative review after a 30-second committee meeting. He also protected former prosecutor-general Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘) — who had already been convicted of providing Ma with illegal wiretaps in connection to the “September strife” — and allowed him to return to the Prosecutor-General’s Office so that he was not only not fired, but he could retire on generous terms.
In terms of economic human rights, Ma’s “6-3-3” election pledge — 6 percent economic growth, yearly per capita income of US$30,000 and an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent — has long since been seen as a lie, causing Ma to lose face. As a complacent and smug keeps Ma bragging about Taiwan’s economic growth, the brutal truth facing Taiwanese is deflating salaries that have dropped to levels last seen toward the end of the 1990s.
At the same time, rising consumer prices set off by the mistakenly rushed hike in fuel and electricity prices, low starting salaries and high housing prices are causing despair among the younger generation, who no longer have any hope for the future. Instead, the Ma regime is using the promotion of economic development as an excuse to provide generous preferential treatment and tax reliefs to big corporations, allowing the wealth gap to continue to increase while permitting the unfair tax system to continue to deteriorate further.
Over the past seven years, Ma’s talk of working hard to improve the economy has only been about improving the economy for big business and the wealthy, while nothing has been done to improve the economic situation for Taiwanese.
The promotion of industrial upgrades and transformation that Ma talked about so widely during his election campaigns have turned out to be jokes.
The planning and construction of many science parks has not initiated industrial upgrading; instead they have served to make the government an accomplice in big business’ takeover of private land, land speculation and environmental destruction. The economic policy the Ma administration has really been working to promote at all costs is to make Taiwan’s economy increasingly dependent on China and to cooperate with China’s united front strategy in order to firmly lock Taiwan’s future economic development onto the market framework that China has decided, thus making Taiwan’s situation increasingly difficult.
In addition, on every important policy — such as food safety management, retirement pension reform, the implementation of residential justice, ethical and capable government reform, an impartial and approachable judiciary, the improvement of the educational system and the protection of a sustainable environment — it is possible to see the significant difference between Ma’s election promises and his achievements after taking office.
Looking back over the past seven years, it is easy to see that what Ma is leaving to Taiwanese is not a golden decade, but a series of nightmares. He has not helped Taiwan reshape itself and move toward excellence, but rather led a government that has randomly messed things up and exhausted the general public. In addition to working hard to make ends meet, people must also work hard to put out the fires that Ma is causing.
In the coming year, we must expect nothing from Ma, who is brave when it comes to power struggles, but a coward when it comes to reform. In reality, Ma has already wasted too much of Taiwan’s precious time and the nation has no more time to waste on Ma. From now on, Taiwanese must roll up their sleeves and prepare to find a way forward for Taiwan’s future.
Huang Kuo-chang is a researcher in the Institutum Iurisprudentiae at the Academia Sinica and a member of the New Power Party.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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