With the defeat of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidate in Saturday’s Lugang Township (鹿港) mayoral by-election, the former port town in Changhua County got its first-ever Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) mayor. The public has spoken.
Perhaps the KMT considers this by-election in a minor township to be of little concern in light of its presidential election victory. However, when comparing this result with that of the previous Lugang mayoral election, things appear more worrying. Then, the KMT won 80 percent of the vote. This time, it did not manage even 30 percent. The difference between these results is a measure of the public’s discontent with the KMT.
After his re-election in January, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said he no longer faced the pressure of seeking a second term, but was still under the pressure of how history would come to judge his tenure. The question is whether he feels any pressure from the Lugang trouncing. Some political commentators have expressed concern that Ma will disregard the interests of the public in favor of padding his legacy. It seems that those concerns may have been well-founded.
First, there was the US beef issue. Originally, the government said it had no predetermined stance on the matter and that it would prioritize the public’s health, but wait for the outcome of consultations with experts before making a decision. However, before the consultations were over, the government went ahead and announced the relaxing of the ban anyway. If it was going to do this all along, what was the point in saying it had no pre-formed opinion? Did it really not think the public would want it to follow through on its promises?
Next, there were the fuel and electricity price hikes. With no warning, the government announced that it would raise gasoline prices by NT$3 per liter, saying that the hike reflected real costs and that if it were done incrementally, there would be a high risk of speculative hoarding before the next hike. This does not sound entirely unreasonable. However, a significant raise that occurs all at once will naturally be passed on to the consumer through increased retail prices, thereby causing inflation. A shrewder approach may have been to start with a more tempered increase, restructure CPC Corp, Taiwan, to make it more efficient and then make speculative stockpiling of gasoline and diesel by companies an offense against public safety. Surely the public would have been more supportive of this kind of approach.
After that came the controversy over the proposed capital gains tax, which the Ministry of Finance blindly swears is necessary for a fair and just tax system. One may recall how the government panicked every time the TAIEX fell in the run-up to the presidential election, fearing that it might cost the KMT votes. Now the TAIEX is on a downward slide and the government is talking about fairness and justice because, of course, it is no longer preoccupied with votes.
Why not first go after the most flagrant tax evaders? Why not chase up the issue of companies’ private ledgers and external accounts? For the sake of Ma’s legacy, the government wants to put the levy in place, regardless of its impact on the value of people’s shares or future tax revenue.
There is also evidence of Ma’s ambitions for his legacy in the way the government is handling the 12-year compulsory education issue. He is fond of comparing this curriculum with the nine-year integrated curriculum, saying it has been planned for 20 years, and that there is no need for further delay in its implementation. With students planning to take to the streets in protest of the proposals, is the government really sure this is a good policy?
The Lugang by-election was only a local election, but the KMT should see it as a wake-up call nonetheless. Ma wants a shining legacy, but it cannot come at the expense of the good of the country.