President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) must have thought that by going overseas he would be able to get away from his troubles. He must have been disappointed, as everywhere he goes there are protesters. Landing in New York on a stopover before a tour of Paraguay and the Caribbean, he was met with overseas Taiwanese holding banners and shouting out their grievances. Being beset with protests at every turn seems to be the Ma administration’s fate.
Since his 2008 landslide victory, Ma’s popularity ratings have consistently fallen and now stand at about 17 percent, making him one of the least popular presidents this nation has had.
The main reason for his lack of popularity is his government’s terrible record, which features a flailing economy, high unemployment rate and ineffectual policies, exacerbated by a string of forced demolitions of homes under the dubious pretext of development.
Ma likes to brag about how he has lowered cross-strait tensions and how Taiwan has not lost diplomatic allies on his watch. However, his cross-strait successes derive from his continual kowtowing to Beijing in his acceptance of the “one China” principle.
The Ma administration regards the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) as one of its greatest achievements, but the latest figures suggest that the benefits the agreement have brought are falling far short of expectations, seeing as the economic situation is worse than before it was signed.
With the signing of the cross-strait service trade pact, the government once again failed to do its homework and ignored the impact the agreement will have on Taiwanese industries.
Ma’s success with Taiwan’s allies is due to his diplomatic truce policy. Under this policy, China no longer needs to waste resources wooing countries with which Taipei has diplomatic relations, while Ma has to take generous gifts on his trips to maintain these ties.
The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) holds a majority in the legislature, but despite this complete control over government, nothing Ma does seems to work. This is mainly due to his refusal to communicate with other political parties and civic groups, or even his own party. Decisionmaking is concentrated in a small group of people within his administration, resulting in policies that are out of touch and ineffectual.
Former Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has extended Ma an olive branch, suggesting that he convene a national affairs conference. The suggestion was a good one, but, once again, Ma immediately changed the idea of a conference to individual meetings between leaders of the KMT and opposition parties.
Meanwhile, attention has been diverted to whether stopping the construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s (新北市) Gongliao District (貢寮) should be a prerequisite for the meetings or simply an agenda item. Because of this diversion, the idea of a national affairs conference will likely just fizzle out.
Ma’s reluctance to convene the conference is due to his unwillingness or inability to communicate on policy matters with the other parties, academic experts or civic groups. He has said that meeting opposition leaders separately at the Presidential Office would be sufficient. His proposal fell through, leading to divisions within the DPP and upsetting the party’s internal cohesion.
Perhaps Ma really does think the conference idea is not the best way to address his administration’s predicament. Nevertheless, it is astounding that, in a democratic country, a president who has been in power for five years has yet to meet, shake hands with, or talk to the leaders of the main opposition party in either an official or public forum.