Many years from now, when people look back on the events of the past few days as the political feud between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) plays out, what will they remember? Many details are sure to be hazy, but one thing that people will recall with the utmost clarity is that one chose to launch their attack on the eve of his opponent’s daughter’s wedding — and to what end?
Choosing to strike on what should have been a joyous occasion for the Wang family was merely an overture in a broader offensive, but the public will judge it for what it is and place their sympathies accordingly. Ma is also a father to two daughters. Could he really not restrain himself for a couple of days? However, this type of move is not entirely out of character for the president. It has often been said by some that Ma has always had things handed to him on a plate and never had the kind of experiences that would have taught the importance of empathy.
For a person without the ability to empathize with others, all that is left is a preoccupation with oneself, a complete self-centeredness.
Ma sees human relations in black-and-white: One is either with him, or against him. He does not think to reflect on the dark side buried deep within him, believes he is always right and therefore sees no need to question himself. However, what was his motivation behind the ruthless attack on Wang?
Self-centeredness and indifference to the consequences of one’s actions are two sides of the same coin. Ma is too ruthless and has no sense of restraint, while Wang’s problem is that he is too willing to facilitate others.
Wang understands people. Everything he turns his hand to is stamped, to a certain degree, with an understanding of humanity. The transcript of the bugged conversations between him and Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) reveals a convivial relationship between two politicians. When they were talking, they referred to the female prosecutor involved in Ker’s case using a term of endearment. Overall, the conversation gives the listener a sense of Wang as having a warm personality.
Wang is an old hand in Taiwanese politics. He is the go-to man if anything needs to be done, the quintessential facilitator. He has said that he is equally at home with the public as he is with the powerful. Nevertheless, when someone gets on with absolutely everybody, it does suggest that they may not have any principles.
The fight between the two KMT heavyweights is nail-biting stuff, keeping the audience on the edges of their seats. Ma’s string of punishing thrusts and below-the-belt jabs have left his good-guy image in tatters.
While the president has been trying to land heavy blows, Wang has been dancing around the ring, seemingly toying with his opponent, seemingly more interested in playing the long game.
Despite the fight clearly being an attempt to frame Wang, who has been a loyal member of the party for many years, he does seem to be enjoying the game. Every time he speaks of his profound love for and devotion to the KMT — at one point he even likened the party to his mother — it always sounds as if there is a hint of sarcasm in his voice. When he speaks of himself as “forever a KMT member” is he having a jab at the party that has turned on him?
He is clearly working up to delivering his punchline. In other words, the more he says, the less sincere his words appear to be.
Even farces have a positive side and this one has given all Taiwanese three things to reflect upon.
The first is that Ma’s mask of amiability has now completely slipped off, revealing the total indifference and lack of compassion of the man Taiwanese elected as their president. The second was only revealed when the fight erupted, and that was the almost unlimited powers of the president, including violations of due process such as the bugging of private conversations and the leaking of information to the president by the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office Special Investigation Division. The third one, which is especially worth reflecting on, is what kind of society and culture will countenance the alleged illegal lobbying of the judiciary and politicians acting as behind-the-scenes facilitators, and consider this to be perfectly natural behavior, as if it were part and parcel of the legislative speaker’s job?
When it comes down to it, politicians from both camps are doing it: The strongly partisan are always trying to lobby for their own interests and those who play the image card are likely just hypocrites. Yet all of them pale in this regard when compared with Wang and Ma.
To conclude, rejecting Ma is not the same thing as supporting Wang. Looking to the future, Taiwanese should not accept either.
From here on, Taiwan can use the collective disenchantment the public feel over this sorry affair as an opportunity to turn a new page. For example by finding a solution to the problems inherent in the nation’s system of constitutional government and the independence of the legislature, or in the distinction between morals and responsibility, to forge a new generation of politicians.
If something constructive comes out of all this, then the price paid by society for being put through all this turmoil may well turn out to be worth it in the end.
Ping Lu is an author.
Translated by Paul Cooper