Last week both Sean Lien (連勝文) and former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) made thinly veiled attacks on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his handling of the economy. Lien remarked that whoever is elected as the next mayor of Taipei, given the sluggish economy, “could be, at the very most, the master of a beggar clan,” while Wu commented that Ma was guilty of selecting individuals for important government posts from too narrow a group.
Senior members of the KMT and the party spokesperson hit back at Lien and Wu, but nothing was heard from Ma. It was only when he made a personal appearance, after the furor failed to dissipate, that everyone realized that Ma had asked senior party members and the party spokesperson to speak out on his behalf.
The World Taiwanese Chambers of Commerce criticized Ma for “looking in the mirror for political appointees.” While it is widely acknowledged that Ma always chooses people with preconceived ideas from a limited circle, the mirror metaphor nailed the problem so neatly that people finally started talking about it openly. Wu’s comments were neither new nor particularly acerbic, but Lien’s beggar clan remark rang true, striking a chord with a society suffering from shrinking incomes and feeling they are virtually living like beggars already. With the poverty gap so wide, millions are finding it difficult to make ends meet and feel that the days of the “beggar clan” are not too far off.
Ma chose not to deal with the problems that the press are giving him a daily roasting for, preferring to keep his head down and ride out the storm, offering no account of himself. When the criticisms became more than mere criticisms and the public actually started to feel the direct effect of his policies, he found himself at a loss for words. It is no wonder that even the pro-blue press are saying that Ma has lost the power of speech.
However, the public are more interested in what he proposes to do, rather than in what he has to say. It has got to the point now where the public do not just disbelieve what he says; they actually feel derision every time he opens his mouth.
Ma’s bringing the economy to its knees did not start in his second term. Financial commentators are united in saying that by making the economy overly reliant on China, Ma has allowed companies to make a profit, but at the price of transferring technology, capital and talent to the other side of the Taiwan Strait, impoverishing the country. Economists on both sides of the political divide have made a similar assessment. Manufacturing representatives have come out in the last few days slating the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) as being next to useless in getting Taiwan out of its current predicament.
Why did Taiwan sleepwalk into becoming the “Republic of Beggardom”? The saddest part is that the public is not to blame.
The citizens of the forthcoming “Republic of Beggardom” will be beggars indeed, but Lien’s “masters of the beggar clan,” will still be living in glory and riches. The attacks on Ma within the KMT were not done with the public interest at heart, they were about little more than shifting power relations. Those in the party can smell a time when Ma will no longer be leader and they are riding on the back of increasing public anger as if speaking for them. Do not be fooled.
Is Lien blameless for Taiwan’s current predicament? Should Wu not shoulder some of the responsibility for where the nation finds itself?
If accounts are to be settled, it should be done properly.
Masters of the beggar clan — Taiwanese should make pariahs of the lot of them.
Allen Houng is a professor at National Yang-Ming University’s Institute of Philosophy of Mind and Cognition.
Translated by Paul Cooper