Taiwan is in need of real leadership

By Jerome Keating  / 

Wed, Jul 06, 2011 - Page 8

Next year’s presidential election is drawing near and Taiwanese must do some serious soul searching.

As they look back at the past four years under the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), basic questions must be asked: Is Taiwan better off now than it was in 2008? Has the economy and overall status of the nation improved significantly since Ma’s infamous “6-3-3” campaign pledge?

No president could have stepped into office with a better position and with better support than Ma. Not only did he receive about 58 percent of the vote, but also by disproportionate representation in the Legislative Yuan (the pan-blue camp had only 54 percent of the vote), Ma was able to get an unstoppable 76 percent majority of the seats.

With this majority, Ma should have achieved anything he wanted; he could have established any desired progressive programs. What more could a president ask for? This was the ticket for great achievement. Progress would be a walk in the park for an average president; for a competent president, it would mean fantastic strides for Taiwan.

So what happened? Instead of four years of wished for progress, Taiwan has had four years of mediocre stagnation.

Look at the economy: The few rich are becoming richer while the poor are becoming poorer. The entry-level salary for college graduates is less than it was four years ago. The cost of housing has risen sharply; young couples find it increasingly difficult to buy a home. Jobs? The only good jobs seem to be overseas as Ma pushes a one-sided agenda of closeness to China and apparent neglect of Taiwan. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is still only a framework and it threatens to swamp Taiwan’s industries and agricultural sectors. Taiwan is not better off than it was four years ago; it is in danger of sinking in quicksand.

Then there are the disasters. If Ma is incompetent, Taiwan could have at least hoped that he would have chosen competent people. That did not happen. Typhoon Morakot was poorly handled. The US beef controversy revealed Ma’s school buddies making promises that he could not keep. Ma had told the US it would have no surprises from him, but it got a big surprise when he had to reject US beef. US-Taiwan relations have suffered since.

Add to this the domestic problems of a decline in freedom of the press, Ma’s condescending insults to Taiwan’s indigenous people, an embarrassed hiding of the flag and the choosing of “dinosaur” and “green card” judges. Taiwan finds itself with an incompetent president surrounded by incompetent toady staff. He even lost his 76 percent majority in the Legislative Yuan because several KMT legislators were found guilty of corruption.

To be sure, there have been plenty of photogenic pictures of Ma along with high-sounding platitudes and grand promises, but progress? Not much.

Citizens should have learned from Ma’s eight years as mayor of Taipei. Photos and platitudes were plentiful, as well as tell-tale disasters like the Maokong Gondola, the botched extension of the MRT Brown Line, the Nanjing West Circle failure and many others in a city that balanced its budget by welching on responsible contributions to the National Health Insurance.

Will Ma’s choice for vice president, Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), add anything to Ma’s ticket? Ma had chosen Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) four years ago to add supposed economic expertise; that never happened. Wu will be loyal, but he will add nothing new.

Ma’s credibility was further called into question after he boasted that with his flexible diplomacy, Taiwan was making progress in gaining international space, particularly in its participation in the World Health Assembly (WHA). This proved to be a sham when an internal WHO memo revealed that Taiwan had actually been expressly demoted last year to “province of China.”

Why was the Ministry of Foreign Affairs asleep at the wheel about this year-old memo? One has the impression secretly the ministry knew its content, but hoped it would not become public knowledge. When it did, Taiwan’s US and EU allies protested this maltreatment much more vigorously than Ma’s health minister, who ended his weak protest with an expression of gratitude for being granted participation under this sham.

Ma’s increasing lack of credibility goes back as far as 2005, when he promised that he would sell the KMT’s stolen state assets; this has yet to be fulfilled. As for the few that were sold, the KMT still kept the money instead of returning it to the people.

In 2005, Ma also promised he would secure arms sales to defend Taiwan, but in the following three years, the KMT used their majority in the Legislative Yuan to block arms bills more than 60 times. In the following four years of Ma’s presidency, there still has been no progress. The Hong Kong-born Ma’s desire to protect Taiwan appears to be another sham.

Finally, Ma’s thinking is last century. He has come up with no new ideas. He relies on the so-called “1992 consensus” that even his own people admit was a fabrication. He has tried to return Taiwan’s negotiations with China to the KMT’s party-to-party dealings with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) of the previous century.

Despite having every advantage when entering office, Ma has squandered Taiwan’s opportunities. Never has so much promise produced so few results.

Ma’s leadership is constantly reactive and not pro-active. With incompetent staff, his government is constantly putting out fires.

Bottom line: Taiwan needs new thinking. It needs to look to the next generation, the next step forward, new leadership and a new and committed Taiwan-centric focus.

Taiwan has had four years of mediocre stagnation under Ma, so is Taiwan better off than it was four years ago? Not by a long shot; Taiwan cannot afford four more years of the same.

Jerome Keating is a political commentator in Taipei.