With an approval rating of only 13 percent, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is done for. No Cabinet reshuffle can change that. It reminds me of the Chinese Communist Party’s 18th National Congress, where changes only signified which faction had the upper hand at the moment — as long as China’s political structure remains the same, Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) will only be another version of Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Hopes for reform are little more than childhood fantasy.
Pro-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) media are busy spinning a new fairy tale around premier-designate Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) and his Cabinet, ignoring the fact that, at 18 percent, his approval rating is only marginally higher than Ma’s.
If Ma remains in charge of both the government and the KMT, there will be no light at the end of the tunnel for Taiwan and the downturn — and not just the economic downturn — will continue unabated. Ma, who is so daft that he now has nothing left but to cling to his political power, would rather trample all over the KMT constitution than give up his pursuit of a third term as chairman — a clear sign that he is at his wits’ end.
Let us ignore that Ma announced the reshuffle in a late-night press release, and focus on the fact that it was released in the name of the “party and government leadership.” By mixing Cabinet appointments with KMT affairs, Ma showed he will not let go of his hold on the party despite those who have suggested a third term would be illegal.
The media, public opinion and even KMT insiders say Jiang’s appointment was an attempt by Ma to find someone who thinks exactly like him among his small circle of confidantes. Jiang is the fourth premier in five years, and with the exception of Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), they are all Mainlanders.
Is he only appointing confidantes?
Maybe there are other, more important factors. There have been reports that Premier Sean Chen (陳冲) does not agree with Ma’s machinations, so Ma was forced to drop him and promote Jiang. Chen, with his financial and economic background, at least had a specialization that helped him understand that things would fall apart if he did all Ma told him to do. Ma chose the obedient Jiang to guarantee his hold on power, but it makes one wonder how Jiang’s Cabinet will be able to come up with anything innovative.
Nor was Jiang Ma’s first choice. He wanted central bank Governor Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南), who would rather leave than take the bullet for “13 percent” Ma. So Ma had to settle for the lackluster, B-list Jiang.
Once it was clear that Jiang would form the next Cabinet, the pro-KMT media began to praise him. With the Ma fairy tale having come crashing down, they started spinning another one around Jiang, talking about an “auspicious Lunar New Year’s gift” and the “ironclad Jiang-Mao duo,” referring to vice premier-designate Mao Chi-kuo (毛治國).
The economy remains the main problem. When Chen became premier, he called his Cabinet a “financial Cabinet,” and Ma’s attempt to appoint Perng was clearly aimed in the same direction. However, neither Jiang nor Mao is an economic wizard, so how can their appointments be justified?
Don’t worry, the pro-KMT media are reliable. The Chinese-language United Daily News said that the illusion about Chen’s “financial Cabinet” is about to be busted, and writers in the government’s pocket have said that even a financial Cabinet must be politically sensitive.
The financial and economic dimensions are clearly gone, and what remains is politics. Between busted illusions and newly spun fairy tales lies a sea of self-deceit and obscurantism.
Chin Heng-wei is a political commentator.
Translated by Perry Svensson