Time is the fairest judge of a politician. After the merciless passage of time, a politician’s legacy consists of nothing but the traces he or she has left behind and the impression of their actions. Praise or condemnation by the blue and green camps, media outlets or talking heads, pretty nationalist slogans and distorted data will all be swept into the dustbin of history. The mightiest and most powerful politicians frequently come forward during the most difficult of times. However, if at such times they act like President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) does, trying to evade responsibility by blaming it on the unpredictability of the world, they can be certain that it will not improve their historical standing.
Ma’s legacy may not be final, but the fact is that most of the chapters have already been written.
For example, Ma has always been politically consistent: He has always chosen authoritarianism and conservatism over democracy and reform. Ma was part of the nobility that was nurtured under the dictatorship of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) and his son Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國). He enjoyed all the advantages and benefits of the one-party state and left no stone unturned in his efforts to praise the autocratic and dictatorial system. When democratization was inevitable, Ma said: “When I heard that martial law would be lifted, I went all numb.” When democracy swept across Taiwan, he stuck to his anti-democratic guns and opposed full and free legislative elections and direct presidential elections; he even compared referendums to China’s Cultural Revolution.
Simply put, Ma stood on the wrong side during the authoritarian era — a period when many mistakes were made — and he continues to stand on the wrong side in the democratic era when those mistakes are being corrected.
Looking at Ma’s track record in public office, the most positive impression he left behind after eight years as Taipei mayor— and maybe the only two positive things anyone can think of — are probably the images of him jogging and swimming. As to the innumerable public construction projects — such as the dedicated bus lane on Zhongxiao west Road, the demolition of the Jiancheng Circle, the construction of the underground shopping area at Longshan Temple, the Neihu MRT line and the Maokong Gondola — all of these more or less added to the troubles of residents and some of them remain a problem to this day. The most representative image of Ma’s mayoral incompetence is perhaps the communications nightmare created by the flooding and ensuing stoppage of the Taipei MRT system during Typhoon Nari in September 2001.
After Ma became president, there was no changes. Indeed, his administrative incompetence has not only affected a city, but a the whole nation. When Ma and his officials went to inspect a disaster area after Typhoon Morakot struck, they were not just late, they were very late. When fruit prices in numerous areas collapsed because of a problem with the production and distribution system, Ma and his team of officials seemed to have seen and heard nothing. Not a single component of his so-called “6-3-3” election promise — that the nation would enjoy annual economic growth of 6 percent, a per capita income of US$30,000 and an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent — has been fulfilled, but there were no apologies for the administration’s failure. Furthermore, unemployment remains high and salaries have dropped to a 13-year low. Yet Ma and his team praise the people who purported the concept of long-term unpaid leave. Data show that among the four “Asian Tigers” — each of which is dealing with the same international economic situation — Taiwan, under Ma’s economic team, occupies the last spot on every count.
In the area of foreign affairs, diplomats like former representative to Fiji Victor Chin (秦日新), former director-general of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Kansas City Jacqueline Liu (劉珊珊) and former representative to Singapore Vanessa Shih (史亞平) have either been involved in scandals or have generated negative publicity amd brought shame on Taiwan.
As for Ma’s favorite topic, “incorruptibility,” this has also become a joke following the scandal surrounding the pride of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) “new generation” — former Cabinet secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世). The most absurd aspect of Lin’s alleged corruption is that he is said to have been engaged in these illicit activities long before any irregularities were exposed. Still, that did not stop him from criticizing and humiliating the then-Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government when he was a legislator. It is lamentable to see how a large group of Ma’s team still takes pride in making use of and distorting the DPP government’s mistakes.
As Ma no longer seeks to be re-elected, he is free from electoral pressure and is now fighting no holds barred for his place in history. Shockingly, the reforms he has been trying to push through — increasing fuel and electricity prices, reinstating a capital gains tax on securities transactions and allowing the importation of beef with ractopamine residues — have dumbfounded everyone. The capital gains tax is extortionate, as is the increase in fuel and electricity prices, and allowing the import of ractopamine-laced beef simply demonstrates a disregard for life. Ma is getting closer and closer to being written into our history books as a tyrant.
Chang Kuo-tsai is a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors and a retired associate professor of National Hsinchu University of Education.
Translated by Perry Svensson