On Saturday, thousands of people besieged the Ministry of National Defense during a demonstration over the death of an army conscript earlier this month due to a problematic disciplinary mechanism in the ministry. An evening vigil also attracted a big crowd in front of the Legislative Yuan.
Another group of advocates have staged a series of protests in Miaoli County and Taipei in recent weeks to condemn the Miaoli County Government’s forced demolition of four houses in Dapu Borough (大埔) to make way for a science park project.
However, while the public were saddened about the death of the young solider and anxious to seek social justice against a local government’s abuse of power, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was celebrating his re-election as Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman in the party’s headquarters on Saturday evening.
Despite being the only candidate in the election, Ma spent the last month campaigning around the nation, visiting 20 cities and counties on weekends, fearing that a low voter turnout would hurt his strength within the party.
In facing challenges from party members over his weak leadership and record low approval rating, Ma defended his performance during a campaign activity in Taipei on Tuesday, complaining that the public is unappreciative about his administration’s efforts to seek bigger interests for Taiwan.
In his victory speech on Saturday, the president reiterated the need for the party-state mechanism and vowed to boost the party’s momentum in future elections.
“The election result shows that the KMT is still a party of unity, and I am thankful for the continuous support of party members,” he said.
While the turnout was better than expected, Ma showed no sign of relief in securing his chairmanship for another four years. Besides mounting pressure from within the party for better election performances, Ma will also face greater challenges in his three remaining years as president.
Rather than close cooperation between the party and the government — Ma’s argument for doubling as party chairman — we have only seen chaos and inefficiency in the legislature and in the Cabinet while they struggle to implement major policies, from capital gains tax on securities transactions and pension reform proposals to the 12-year education plan.
Daunting tasks in the KMT also await Ma in the next four years, with party members demanding he lead the party to victory in next year’s seven-in-one local elections and the presidential election in 2016.
A much more complicated challenge for him will be cross-strait relations. Having risked the rights of Taiwanese by signing the Economic Cooperation Agreement Framework in 2010 and the cross-strait service trade agreement last month, Ma will have to deal with the sensitive cross-strait political issues that will not only affect Taiwan, but will have ramifications for the interests of the US and other Asian countries.
Saturday’s large-scale street protest against the ministry over corporal Hung Chung-chiu’s (洪仲丘) death intensified the plight Ma is facing. As the nation’s leader, the leader of a 119-year-old party and the commander in chief, he should lead the nation forward with all the power he has grasped. Yet he only attracts deeper distrust from the public.
Days after public outcry over Hung’s death, Ma finally paid a visit to the corporal’s family in Greater Taichung on Saturday afternoon. He promised to uncover the truth behind the tragedy and to examine the military’s disciplinary system.
It was a belated gesture from the president, but it could be a start to demonstrate his commitment to listen to the voice of the people, address their calls for justice and become a people’s president.