During THE RECENT presidential campaign, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) caused an uproar by proposing the signing of a cross-strait peace agreement. He seems to have learned nothing from this experience because he recently sent former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) to China to propose the “one country, two areas (一國兩區)” formula to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Ma’s rash move on such a sensitive issue without first forging a consensus between the public, political parties and legislators has once again caused debate and concern.
The aftermath of the H5N2 outbreak and controversy surrounding the import of US beef containing the livestock feed additive ractopamine continue to destabilize Taiwan, but Ma remains silent, unwilling or afraid of explaining his policies to the public and avoiding questions as much as possible. Unlike Ma, former US president Ronald Reagan was a great communicator because he was sincere when facing the public.
Ma once praised Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) as Taiwan’s “chief economic planner,” but Siew said he had not been informed about the decision to raise fuel and electricity prices. He also said that if he were the decisionmaker, he would not raise fuel and electricity prices at the same time to reduce the impact on the public.
All top government officials model their behavior on Ma’s one-man leadership. While the public were complaining over the fuel and electricity price hikes, Ma showed off his physical prowess in Africa. He may have felt good about himself, but he is unable to move and comfort the public. The first thing he did after returning to Taiwan was to advise the public to consult energy-saving experts as a way of dealing with the price hikes.
Perhaps he did not know what he was talking about. One can only wonder why, during his four years in office, he has not actively reviewed and pushed for improvements to Taiwan Power Co and CPC Corp, Taiwan, considering the amount of corruption, waste and poor efficiency evidenced in these companies.
During the past two presidential elections, Ma has played the “long stays” game in rural areas, but failed to fulfill the “6-3-3” campaign pledge he made in 2008, as well as the promise not to raise fuel and electricity prices he made in this year’s election. The public may be used to politicians at all levels failing to keep their election promises and may not take them seriously as a result, but they have much higher expectations of the president.
Although politics is a kind of performance art or clever trickery, the people detect no humility or sincerity in Ma’s performance. As public anger continues to grow steadily, voters are sure to teach the KMT a lesson in the next presidential election.
Where was Ma on the first two days of Typhoon Morakot hitting Taiwan on in August 2009? What was his attitude? Did he learn anything from that experience? On the day of the earthquake in Sichuan, China, on May 12, 2008, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) immediately flew from Beijing to Sichuan, walking to the disaster area and talking to victims in a sincere attempt to comfort them.
Ma will never be able to learn to express such heartfelt sincerity. He graduated from prestigious schools and has enjoyed a smooth rise thanks to the KMT’s support. Ma is steeped in elitist arrogance that makes him unable to feel close to the public and unaware of the importance of listening to their opinions. He also does not understand that successful policies are built on social harmony.
When former president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) was still the premier, he once stayed overnight at the Military Academy in Kaohsiung during a visit to Kaohsiung and Pingtung. As he arrived, he told the school’s president, Hsu Li-nung (許歷農), that he had not had dinner yet, but that the kitchen only needed to prepare a bowl of “fried rice with egg” for him. He led a simple life because he worked as a miner in Russia when he was young, and Taiwanese still remember his simplicity.
Taiwan’s retail prices surged in 1973 due to the oil crisis connected to the Arab-Israeli War. In June of that year, then-minister of economic affairs Sun Yun-suan (孫運璿) announced 11 measures to stabilize prices, while freezing both fuel and electricity prices. Sun grew up in poverty and experienced the chaos of war and so he was truly capable of comprehending economic hardship. In contrast, while Ma often talks the talk, he does not walk the walk.
Just like Ma, NBA player Jeremy Lin (林書豪) also graduated from Harvard University, but he displays very different characteristics. He graduated with a major in economics and a minor in sociology and likes to participate in community services and help the disadvantaged. The name Harvard comes from the school’s first benefactor, minister John Harvard, and Lin also hopes to serve as a minister someday to give back to the community. Despite his fame, he always gives credit to his team and coach. This is a show of humility and sincerity that can hardly be compared with Ma’s behavior.
There is a saying in Taipei’s political circles that “Ma has no friends.” He only believes in himself and cares too much about his charisma and historical legacy. He does have a few close aides, but he has no allies or friends who give him frank advice. Moreover, he cannot see that he is losing the public’s approval. His pride and arrogance have blinded him from seeing his faults and this is his biggest failing.
Johnny Shieh is an assistant professor in the Department of Marketing and Distribution Management at Kao Yuan University.
Translated by Eddy Chang