The most gifted members of a team do not necessarily make the best team leaders. Good leaders looks after the interests of the group, not just their own, and are focused on attaining the team’s goals. By contrast, the most gifted members often feel they are above the others. Despite their superior knowledge and ability, despite their being able to achieve amazing things, they lack humility and a sense of compassion. This is what causes them to fall.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has suddenly gone on the political offensive. The allegations of Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng’s (王金平) involvement in improper lobbying are just a pretext: Wang’s real sin was his failure to keep pace with Ma’s cross-strait policy agenda.
The tension between domestic politics and cross-strait relations has always been used as a bargaining chip for Taiwanese democratic politics when dealings with Beijing. Without the buffer of the national legislature, Taiwan’s ability to negotiate would be compromised.
In his presidential inauguration address in 2008, Ma said that after the second handover of power there was finally a chance to steer the nation forward on a more stable course, saying that: “With the tumultuous times experienced in the previous period, the public’s trust in the government is at an all-time low and political machinations have distorted society’s core values.”
How ironic it is that five years later, as our minister of national defense, minister of justice and now legislative speaker have fallen in close succession, Ma’s words apply so fittingly to his own leadership skills.
Ma has cautioned that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and yet he has ignored the concerns raised by many people in Taiwan, disrespected human rights and failed to observe the principle of proportionately in dealing with important issues. Everywhere one looks, one can find the traces of the use of absolute power.
Civic groups such as the Taipei Society have issued a statement saying that it is illegal for a legislative speaker to lobby prosecutors, but that “the president publicly apportioning blame upon the legislative speaker, publicly ordering him to step down and the premier openly questioning the speaker’s suitability, are all actions that overstep the president’s and premier’s constitutional roles, as well as unconstitutional actions that threaten the balance of power.”
Presidents make mistakes; they are not perfect. At the higher echelons of power, there are very few people holding Ma in check and very many pandering to him. When leaders are faced with choices, they take their time pondering the issue and try to come up with a strategy suitable to the complexity of the problem, one that is just, but which also shows compassion and humility.
US President Barack Obama was initially pushing for rushing into military action against Syria, invoking the humanitarian initiative of the responsibility to protect. However, after being met with opposition both within his own country and abroad, he changed tack, agreeing to allowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons and try to pursue a diplomatic solution.
Like Obama, Ma is a Harvard University graduate, but Ma does not possess the high emotional quotient that Obama has exhibited. A more competent leader would have welcomed differing opinions and listened to what people had to say before taking action. This is the type of leadership that is needed if the crevasse dividing the country is to be bridged.
Lin Cheng-yi is a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of European and American Studies.
Translated by Paul Cooper