Administrative efficiency and the wrangle over a biotechnology venture controversy took center stage yesterday as the three presidential candidates battled it out in the final televised debate.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), who is seeking re-election, in his opening statement rejected allegations that he was behind attempts to implicate Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in a bid to manipulate next month’s presidential election.
“Accusations that I instructed the prosecutors are unacceptable and they severely vilify and insult my character. I did not and would never do this. I would withdraw from the presidential election at once if I had,” Ma said.
Prosecutors this week started investigating claims of Tsai’s alleged illegal involvement with a biotechnology start-up while she was the vice premier under the previous DPP government — claims she has flatly denied.
“I am saddened that Ma’s campaign team uses government resources and his officials use false documents to smear me and to mislead the public,” Tsai said in her opening statement, which followed Ma’s.
She also accused the prosecution of violating administrative neutrality and judicial independence by “cooperating” with Ma’s KMT in the investigation.
“I urge Ma not to jeopardize Taiwan’s democracy for the sake of one election victory,” she said.
Tsai said that the nation needs to change its leadership and elect a visionary if it is to revamp its economy and safeguard its sovereignty in the coming four years.
She said that “after nearly four years under President Ma’s leadership, we have seen our economy lose growth momentum and our sovereignty erode. It’s high time we change the ruling party and change the president.”
She also took issue with Ma’s repeated references to former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), saying Ma only looked to the past and failed to offer a broad vision for Taiwan’s future development.
“For our country’s bright future, we must have a new president,” she said.
People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) highlighted the importance of national safety in his opening statement, saying that it is not just a matter of military security, but also applies to people’s property and finances, land security and social welfare.
“A state leader’s most important task is to keep the country safe,” Soong said, adding that the biggest threat to the safety of Taiwanese is not China’s missiles, but the nuclear power plants in the greater Taipei area — where 7 million people live — and frequent natural disasters such as typhoons and flooding.
Saying that potential threats include a rising national debt that could limit the government’s ability to pay public servants’ pensions and social welfare subsidies, Soong called on voters to cast their ballots for him, describing himself as an experienced candidate who has no political baggage, but has a comprehensive set of administrative policies.
In the third section of the debate, where the candidates posed direct questions to one another, Ma, in response to a question from Soong about government efficiency, said the efficiency of his administration has been globally competitive and he has worked to fight corruption and improve government capabilities since he took office.
“While [government efficiency] has fallen from sixth place last year to 10th place this year in the global competitiveness ranking of the International Monetary Fund, we were in the top 10 both years,” Ma said.