People’s privacy should be rightfully respected. However, when it comes to public figures, particularly influential ones in the upper echelons of government, they should expect to sacrifice their privacy to a certain extent and expose parts of their lives to public scrutiny, as their actions — both open and clandestine — affect the course and security of their nation.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is no exception. Power comes with responsibility, and as the head of the state, Ma enjoys various executive privileges bestowed upon him by the Constitution of the Republic of China. At the same time, he is duty-bound to be held accountable for his actions — and by extension those of members of his family. He cannot simply brush off or dodge public scrutiny on the pretext of personal privacy.
Therefore, it was surprising to many when the Presidential Office on Monday confirmed media reports that the eldest of Ma’s two daughters, Lesley Ma (馬唯中), had married last year in New York and that she and her husband, Allen Tsai (蔡沛然), currently reside in Hong Kong.
“Why all the secrecy?” many wondered after the first family confirmed the marriage only when it came to light earlier this week.
While the confirmation has provoked a frenzy among a number of local media outlets which focused their coverage on Tsai’s looks, his past stint as a model and gossip about how the couple first met — coverage which probably plays into the pan-blue camp’s wish to frame such reports as pure celebrity gossip — there are serious matters that should be discussed.
First of all, the issue of the president’s credibility is at stake. Ma Ying-jeou had previously pledged that he would announce the news of any potential marriage of his daughters. If the president had kept his word and done as promised, no one would have had to second-guess the first family and question whether it has anything to hide.
While some pan-blue lawmakers have been quick to come to the defense of the first family, calling on the public to respect its privacy, their argument only serves to further irk members of the public about how blatantly they apply double standards when it comes to politicians in different camps.
In case they need a reminder, during the presidency of Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), they chastised Chen’s son, Chen Chih-chung (陳致中), and his daughter-in-law, Huang Jui-ching (黃睿靚), telling them to return to Taiwan so their first child could be born in Taiwan, rather than in the US.
At the time, none of the lawmakers defended the couple’s right to personal privacy or argued that their personal decisions should be respected.
Then, the media also hounded Chen Shui-bian’s daughter, Chen Hsin-yu (陳幸妤), often claiming she put on a poker face with the media when she was simply not very expressive. On the other hand, Lesley Ma has been described by the media as “keeping a low profile” when she was also simply just expressionless.
It is a shame that such blatant double standards exist in Taiwan, a country that prides itself on its democratic achievements.
As a number of opposition lawmakers have pointed out recently, there is also concern about the couple’s safety — and by extension, Taiwan’s national security — because the president’s daughter and son-in-law now reside in Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, which still harbors hostility toward Taiwan and makes no secret of its desire to annex it.
All these are serious issues. The nation’s taxpayers deserve transparent information from the Presidential Office. These issues cannot be written off as personal privacy and be shut off from public scrutiny.