President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) did not celebrate the anniversary of his first and second inaugurations yesterday.
It is safe to say the honeymoon period from last year’s re-election is well and truly over. This is Ma’s second term in office and he has little to show for it. Few people are feeling like celebrating his administration’s record, and the Presidential Office has announced there will be no official celebrations to mark the anniversary, sensing that not many people would turn up. It got that right.
The Ma administration is most proud of its record on cross-strait relations. An appraisal of the short-term outlook does suggest a falling off of saber rattling, and an increase in trade and traffic across the Taiwan Strait. However, with the nation’s progressively pro-China stance the issue of Taiwan’s sovereignty has, for the international community, been pushed onto the back burner and it is difficult to say what the long-term repercussions of this development in relations will be.
Taiwan’s increased economic reliance on China is making it the periphery to China’s center. This will likely impact our political future: Taiwanese saw how much influence China had on last year’s presidential election.
If this trend continues, Taiwan will have unification forced upon it and will lose the ability to make its own political decisions.
Ma’s China policy may seem like a step forward, but it is really just a milestone on the nation’s road to decline.
To assess Ma’s performance, one must first review his campaign promises.
He has talked of his “6-3-3” economic goals of 6 percent economic growth, US$30,000 average annual salary and under 3 percent unemployment within his first term, promising that if he failed to meet this target, he would forfeit half of his salary.
From July 2008 to June last year, the average economic growth rate was a meager 1.73 percent, far below the 4.7 percent average during the eight years former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was in office. Currently, the average annual salary is not even US$20,000, let alone US$30,000. The government has blamed global economic factors and Ma has reneged on his promise to give away half his salary.
During the 2008 presidential campaign Ma swore he would resolve the problem of illicit assets held by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), but has yet to take any action. He has backtracked so far on tax reform over the contentious capital gains tax on securities transactions that the original proposals are hardly recognizable. Attempts to reintroduce the tax angered investors who would be eligible to pay it, leading to another U-turn by the government. Pension reform has gone much the same way, with the government afraid to offend civil servants for fear of losing their votes. The government has been forced to compromise on inter-professional and intergenerational justice, and half-baked reforms are not benefiting social justice or pension fund finances.
The Ma administration has often talked about corruption in the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government, milking the corruption cases against Chen to divert attention from its own political travails.
However, Ma has not been able to keep his own house in order: His government has been plagued with more corruption scandals than the DPP government. Not only did former Executive Yuan secretary-general Lin Yi-shih (林益世) get caught with his hand in the cookie jar, one of Ma’s trusted aides, KMT Taipei City Councilor Lai Su-ju (賴素如), has found herself the subject of a corruption investigation.
Ma’s reforms are dead in the water, his popularity ratings are far south of 20 percent and the public lost faith in him long ago. Few people could be looking forward to the next three years, least of all Ma.