President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) chances of getting re-elected in 2012 are down to 36.8 percent, according to a forecast from the Center for Prediction Markets at National Chengchi University. Poll after poll shows dissatisfaction with Ma.
No wonder China’s leaders have been getting worried and made a series of concessions in connection with the economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA) talks earlier this year.
Writing for the Brookings Institution, Shelley Rigger suggests that although China and Taiwan are working together to set up a framework for cross-strait exchange, this process is constrained by Taiwan’s internal politics. The Ma administration’s weakness on the domestic front limits the speed and content of cross-strait rapprochement. One of the reasons people have lost confidence in the Ma government is that its policies are not transparent. The government is often suspected of sacrificing Taiwan’s sovereignty for the sake of reaching agreements with Beijing. If, one day, China’s leaders determine that Ma cannot deliver what Beijing wants, then it could be “game over” for his weak approach to cross-strait rapprochement, Rigger suggests.
The Cabinet has been hobbled by a series of blows related to controversies over the proposed health insurance premium hike, the death penalty and other issues. While former justice minister Wang Ching-feng (王清峰) resigned over the capital punishment issue, Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang (楊志良) had to be cajoled into withdrawing his resignation over the health insurance impasse. Meanwhile, National Youth Commission Minister Wang Yu-ting (王昱婷) faces accusations of failing to draw the line between her public and private affairs.
The government has either reneged on its much-vaunted promises of reform or let them evaporate. Moves to have military personnel and teachers pay income tax, for example, came to an abrupt halt after the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) traditional supporters in the military threatened to stop supporting the party. The Ministry of Civil Service has proposed amendments to the Civil Servants Evaluation Act (公務人員考績法) stipulating that at least 3 percent of staff at government agencies must be given a low “C” grade in their year-end evaluations, but the government has quietly backpedaled on the proposal following a fierce backlash from civil servants. The Cabinet is also wavering on cooling the runaway real estate market.
In recent days, even a number of KMT-aligned legislators have questioned the veracity of the unemployment rate as declared by the government, saying that total unemployment stands at 11 percent if those in temporary jobs are included in the figure. The protesting lawmakers say Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) could resign twice over and it still wouldn’t be enough. All these cases of public hardship and dissatisfaction cannot be resolved through slogans and public information pamphlets.
Ma’s halo having lost its luster renders his chances of re-election questionable. The countdown to crisis has already begun for him. As Taipei County Commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) wrote recently: “Politics is not like making a film, where you can shout ‘cut’ and shoot the scene again any time something goes wrong.”
If the government persists in its lack of transparency and fails to seek a public consensus on major controversial issues like the proposed ECFA, then the cross-strait policy it holds so dearly will be brought down along with its proponents, leaving nothing but regrets for the pan-blues in 2012.
Lu I-ming is the former publisher and president of Taiwan Shin Sheng Daily News.
TRANSLATED BY JULIAN CLEGG
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