The single most important task for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to save his legacy, with three years to go in his term, would not be establishing representative offices across the Taiwan Strait, nor would it be reviving Taiwan’s economy.
His most urgent goal has less to do with hard power, and more to do with soft power: to regain the people’s trust from five years ago, when he won the presidential election in a landslide victory, saying that Taiwan would be a better country under his leadership.
The president could start with a very simple first step: stopping the scheduled demolition of four farmers’ houses at Dapu (大埔), Jhunan Township (竹南) in Miaoli County. Three years ago, Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), then premier, and Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), then interior minister, responded to public outrage over the Miaoli County Government’s seizure of land in Dapu to make way for a science park. They promised to preserve the remaining four houses and to find land where the affected families could relocate their homes and farms. Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) also apologized to the farmers for ordering the demolition.
Three years on, the government has withdrawn its promise and seems prepared to tear down those houses, saying it never pledged unconditional preservation, despite government meeting minutes clearly stating the pledge.
The so-called Dapu incident is stereotypical of the Ma administration, which shamelessly tells people it does not need to fulfill its promises because 7.66 million voters in 2008 and 6.89 million voters last year gave it an “unconditional” mandate.
Yet Ma’s unfulfilled campaign pledges and the dire performance of his administration during the past five years show just how far these voters have been let down. The administration has failed to deliver on almost every one of its major commitments, including the “6-3-3” pledge and the promise of the TAIEX reaching 10,000 points. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement was intended to boost the economy, and similar claims have been made about the recent cross-strait trade pact.
Then there are the policies that Ma’s administration have not even tried to dress up as part of the mandate given to it by 23 million people. Without consulting either the Taiwanese public or the legislature, this administration has unilaterally increased fuel and electricity prices and signed the cross-strait service trade pact. The worst abuse has been in recently echoing Beijing’s “one China” framework.
It seems Ma no longer cares about his credibility. Perhaps he thinks Taiwanese do not understand his reform plan, policies and visions and he, as national leader, must keep walking down the path alone and determined. Yet, ironically, “credibility” was the first word that came out of Ma’s mouth when the legislature tried to alter the content of the service trade pact, saying that Taiwan’s international image would be damaged if the already signed pact were to be changed.
If Ma wonders why people seem to be opposing everything his administration does, it is because Taiwanese do not trust the government anymore.
And if Ma wonders why trust would be the most important asset he has to keep, he need not look far. From 2006, former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration dramatically lost its credibility after a series of corruption scandals rocked the nation. This contributed to the Democratic Progressive Party’s defeat in the presidential election, and its tarnished image still haunts the party today.
Ma needs to understand that there are no “two types of trust” in the world. Yes, Taiwan ought to be a trustworthy partner in the international community, but first Ma must win back the lost trust of the Taiwanese public at home.
He should take that first step today.