EDITORIAL: Is Ma deaf to normal people’s pleas?

Thu, May 17, 2012 - Page 8

It’s interesting to observe how an individual’s mentality is unconsciously reflected through their comments and actions.

As an example, let’s revisit dialogues that recently took place between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and a student, as well as between former Democratic Progressive Party chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and another student, in which they were separately asked similar questions.

On May 4, during a visit by the president to National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, a student told Ma in reference to a recent increase in retail prices that he does not feel full now after eating one biandang, or lunchbox. The student said typical lunchboxes these days tend to contain less vegetables even though their prices have remained the same. In response, Ma asked: “You don’t feel full? So now you need to eat one more biandang? Or do you endure being hungry?”

Fast-forward to Tuesday last week, when Tsai took questions from the audience at the same school after she delivered a speech.

Among the questions, she was asked: “What happens when a biandang can’t keep me full?”

“You should speak out if you don’t feel full,” Tsai replied. “That way, the people in power would hear not only the voices of the rich.”

Many found the strikingly different responses amusing that is, if they did not bemoan how far apart Ma and Tsai are in their attitudes toward the difficulties that ordinary people face.

While some praised Ma for being practical in his response, others lamented that he missed the point and that he lacked understanding for the plight of ordinary people.

Tsai, meanwhile, struck on a key point: the need to speak out.

Speaking out is the most direct way to let the national leader know the status of his or her people.

In a democracy, public officials are elected to serve the people, not the other way around, and the president, more so than any other official, should be even more humble, and be responsible, heed the public’s grievances and hardships and be responsive to people’s needs and sufferings.

Even before his second-term presidency has begun, the Ma administration faces an outpouring of public anger over its maneuverings to relax the ban on US beef containing traces of ractopamine, as well as its so-called reform initiatives, such as the decision to allow steep increases in fuel and electricity prices and the introduction of a capital gains tax on stock investments to address tax fairness.

Ahead of Ma’s inauguration for a second term on Sunday, here’s a word of advice for the president and all those officials who will serve under him: Open your ears to people’s voices.

In light of mass protests scheduled to take place on Saturday and Sunday to voice discontent with the Ma administration, it is to be hoped that the president, rather than shutting out the “noise” — as the public witnessed on Ketagalan Boulevard in Taipei yesterday, where a dozen protesters were rounded up by police before they could deliver their appeal to the Presidential Office — would be humble and be reminded that it was his administration which created the situation that prompted the public to take to the streets in the first place.

Can the people’s voice reach the president’s ears and can their plight be heard? We will have to wait and see.