Another attempt at humor has backfired on President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who tried linking the recent outbreak of rabies to a biting incident between lawmakers during a brawl in the legislature in June.
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has frequently berated Ma for making “flippant” remarks.
The party called him mean and heartless for making light of something as serious as rabies, which has frightened the public and strained health authorities who are trying to contain the outbreak.
Ma was referring to the incident on June 25, when DPP Legislator Lin Shu-fen (林淑芬) bit Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Wu Yu-jen (吳育仁) on the arm during a protest against the cross-strait service trade agreement.
Lin said she only bit Wu in self-defense after Wu groped her, touching her breasts, as they grappled during a scuffle between rival parties for control of the speaker’s chair.
Wu initially said he would sue Lin for assault, but he backed down after video footage of the incident was broadcast in news reports. He publicly apologized to Lin, but insisted he had not groped her.
At a meeting of the KMT Central Standing Committee on July 31, Ma is reported to have said that when Wu went to hospital to get a tetanus shot after the brawl, someone suggested he also consider getting a rabies shot. News reports said Ma said the comment had been funny because rabies had not been found in Taiwan for decades.
“However, a few days after that, we had the confirmed discovery of the rabies virus in Taiwan,” he was quoted as saying, adding that while the public had not paid much attention to the threat of rabies before because of its long absence from Taiwan, the government had been quick to respond to the outbreak.
Although Ma reportedly did get a few laughs for his remarks, some KMT officials who were at the meeting said that his comments were improper and not befitting a head of state.
Lin did not hear of Ma’s comments until Saturday last week, but was angry when she did.
“We have an outbreak [of rabies] during Ma’s term in office, which has created a public scare, making everyone very fearful. Animal activists have staged protests against the Council of Agriculture and some individuals fasted for more than 100 hours,” she said.
“Ma not only did not take government agencies to task for their negligence and careless handling of the situation, he chose to joke about efforts to contain the rabies outbreak,” Lin said.
“Ma is trying to shift the focus away from the government’s responsibility for this serious situation. Does he have a heart, any compassion?” she said.