In a week, the year 2012 will be over. Both the central and local governments have started to prepare for the New Year’s celebrations, and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has launched a “train of fury” series of lectures, including speeches in 10 cities and counties to promote a protest march scheduled for next month.
As Taiwanese businesses review their gains and losses over the past year, many companies are certain to face difficulties. The challenges will differ from sector to sector, but if we look into the main reason for operation variables obstructing development, it is generally agreed that the answer is the failure of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration.
There is nothing new about an opposition party staging protests, but when DPP Chairman Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) recently announced that the party would stage a protest against Ma, supporters wondered why Su had not taken action sooner. This kind of reaction is not very common in Taiwan.
As a result of historical factors, the collective character of the Taiwanese is relatively conservative. Once they publicly display their discontent with the authorities, their anger has been accumulating for so long that it has reached a critical point.
As we begin the countdown to the new year, Ma should not just sit around and wait for the fireworks, he should be thinking hard over whether it is also the countdown to the end of his regime.
The Economist article titled “Ma the bumbler: A former heart-throb loses his shine” published last month has caused much discussion. This month, there has been a lot of talk on the Internet about a Japanese fortune-telling Web site, according to which Ma’s family name was best described by the word “ordinary” (凡庸). Then on Dec. 10, the Wall Street Journal posted an article titled “Taiwan’s Ma joins the shoe club” on its blog.
Within the last year, Ma’s approval ratings have crumbled. This must be humiliating for Ma, who cares deeply about his image. Still, compared to the problems caused to the Taiwanese by his policies, that is entirely insignificant.
According to the latest Taiwan Mood Barometer Survey, about 88.5 percent of respondents think the nation’s economy is doing poorly. About 87.8 percent of respondents were particularly dissatisfied with the fuel and electricity price hikes. Ma still sees this policy as a “reform.” As a result, he is going to launch more “reforms” starting on Jan. 1, including raising the labor insurance premium from 8.5 percent to 9 percent and the premium for the government employee insurance from 7.15 percent to 8.25 percent.
Meanwhile, the government will implement a “supplementary premium” under the Second-Generation National Health Insurance Program. This means an additional 2 percent premium levied on non-salary income that exceeds NT$5,000, such as a bonus, income from a part-time job, rent or dividends
The Ministry of the Interior has proposed that the farmer insurance premium be raised from 2.55 percent to 3 percent and the premium for the national pension by 0.5 percent.
It is easy to conclude that Ma’s so-called reforms are not a matter of system reconstruction, transformation or upgrading. Instead, he wants to collect more money from the public despite current hardships. He is even issuing threats, saying that there will be more pain in future if we do not push for reforms today.
Reforms must be based on a thorough and fair review, and more urgent reforms should be prioritized. Government agencies should take the lead in setting a good example in the hope that this might convince the public to follow. If the reform process is reversed, it instead becomes anti-reform.
Following the fuel and electricity price hikes earlier this year, the state-run Chinese Petroleum Corp, Taiwan and Taiwan Power Co have failed to implement reform. Not long ago, the company even handed out NT$4 billion (US$138 million) in performance bonus to its employees without having first obtained the legislature’s approval. Why should taxpayers support the actions of a company that clearly tramples all over the public and does what it wants.
Looking at the various policies that will take effect starting next year, one cannot help but wonder where the reform plan for the retirement pension program is? By how much will the income replacement ratio for retired government employees be reduced? How have the Labor Insurance Fund investments performed?
After an investment company’s vice president used the fund’s resources to manipulate the stock price of the Ablerex Electronics Co via dummy accounts, one wonders how the government will prevent similar cases from happening again? In the face of the Bureau of National Health Insurance’s huge deficits, will the bureau’s year-end bonus reach a new high this year?
It is not easy to be elected president, but it is not the most difficult task, because ruling the country and making a good, lasting impression on the public is more difficult. Minister of Culture Lung Ying-tai (龍應台) said that throwing shoes at Ma was the behavior of bullies. Some international leaders have had the same experience.
For example, a Cambridge University student threw a shoe at Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶). Ma is one of very few leaders who has been attacked by his own people.
After the Ma administration’s bullying of the public, Lung still stood up to defend the president. Who will defend the public? Given the public fury, there is no alternative, but to take to the streets. There is no better way to make the government listen to the public and stop being a bully.
Translated by Eddy Chang