Smoke and stagnation under Ma

By Jerome Keating  / 

Sun, Nov 06, 2011 - Page 8

As Taiwan’s presidential election approaches, few Taiwanese need to be reminded of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) infamous and miscalculated “6-3-3” pledge of 2008. With the election two months away and the “6-3-3” promise and others unfulfilled, Ma is crafting a new promise: He is promising a “golden decade.”

A golden decade? The full ramifications of this new promise boggle the mind, especially from a man who has consistently tried to make the public forget about his past unfulfilled promises by trading them for new unfulfilled promises.

Where does one begin? Let us start with the miscalculated “6-3-3” campaign pledge. The pledge was based on Taiwan’s 2007 GDP, which hovered between 5.5 percent and 5.7 percent, and Ma’s economic advisers felt 6 percent would be easily achievable during his first four years as president. When the economy started to tank, Ma reformulated the promise, saying he meant 6 percent by 2016, not 6 percent by 2012.

Is that achievable? This year’s GDP is about 4.7 percent and next year’s is predicted to be 4.5 percent — that hardly bodes well. And although the country has already wasted four years on Ma, he is now asking for another four-year term.

If the next four years prove as disastrous as the last, Ma will still be packed off with a comfortable pension in 2016. However, it will be a different story for Taiwan, and its problems will be more than just the economy.

Compare Ma’s promise of a “golden decade” to the unfulfilled promises above. If the first five years of “6-3-3” fall far short of the 5.7 percent GDP of 2007, then we can expect that the first five years of the “golden decade” will not be golden, but rather leaden dross. And Ma will be gone before the first half of that decade is over.

What about Ma’s other promises? Few recall that in 2005, as chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Ma promised to divest the party of its ill-gained assets. That is another one to add to Ma’s dustbin of unfulfilled promises. And the profits from the few properties that Ma did sell were not turned over to the people; they were put in the KMT war chests to keep the party’s politicians in office. That is not divesting, but liquefying assets.

Then there was the famous 2005 promise to help arm the nation. After blocking arms budgets and purchases for three years in the Legislative Yuan so that the Democratic Progressive Party would not get credit for them, the Ma administration finally this year got approval from the US for a package of upgrades to the nation’s air force, but not the F-16C/Ds it had requested. Six years is a long time to wait to receive only upgrades in the end.

The past four years under Ma have been years of smoke and stagnation. Ma’s campaign team claims that of the 400 policies proposed by his administration in 2008, 90 percent have been fulfilled. That would make 360 fulfilled promises, but can anyone name even 25 of those?

Voters must ask themselves whether they are really better off now than they were four years ago because of those 360 promises that Ma has supposedly kept.

Is housing more affordable? Are jobs more plentiful? Have jobs stayed in Taiwan instead of going to China? Has the average person’s income increased or is it at a lower level than it was four years ago? Has the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) made a difference to anyone aside from a few rich people? Is the wealth gap shrinking or is it actually widening?

Smoke and stagnation.

And now also hiding in the smoke is Ma’s talk of possibly signing a peace treaty with China within 10 years. How can Ma make such a proposal when he will not even be in power in 10 years? Further, how does he envision this vague promise? It was first to be a treaty, then a peace accord — and now?

Then there is the additional ambiguity of whether Ma sees this accord as state-to-state, party-to-party or region-to-region and whether it must be under the “one China” principle that China always insists on. And will Ma invoke the fabricated and bogus so-called “1992 consensus”?

This is more than smoke and stagnation: It puts Taiwan’s sovereignty in danger. Ma has tried to escape from his own slippery conundrum by saying he would first seek a referendum.

However, Ma’s party has thus far not only refused to let the ECFA be put to a referendum, but has also blocked all attempts to reform the Referendum Act (公民投票法), with all its “birdcage” restrictions.

Ma began his presidency under the best of circumstances — with a Legislative Yuan in which his party controlled 75 percent of the vote.

After four years of smoke and stagnation, the people of Taiwan cannot afford to waste another four years.

Jerome Keating is a commentator based in Taiwan.