May 20 was the anniversary of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) third year in office. Ma celebrated, but many cannot see how his time in office inspires confidence. Instead, they see an irritable man who easily loses his temper and abuses others. Political commentator Nan Fang Shuo (南方朔), who supported Ma’s previous election campaigns, recently described Ma as a “scared leader.”
The term “scared leader” describes Ma very well. However, Ma was not always like this. On the contrary, he was full of confidence when he took over on May 20, 2008.
Why has Ma ended up like this? People have tried to come up with all sorts of explanations. Some say he lacks the power to make decisions and follow through on them, that he employs a small circle of his own right-hand men, that he lacks empathy for those who are struggling, that he appoints officials who are too old and that he is too weak in the face of China.
Unfortunately for Ma, these are all true. For example, the way he handled Typhoon Morakot just after coming into office was the embodiment of incompetence, weakness and misjudgment.
However, the problem does not lie with Ma alone; it lies with his whole team. It is also not just about a lack of power to make decisions and follow through on them, it is about the rigid thinking of Ma’s team. They are still living the “Taiwan miracle” dream that their predecessors created decades ago. This old dream is so powerful that it stops them from seeing the present and looking to the future. This is why they so easily make beautiful but nonsensical promises. It is therefore no surprise that these promises fail to materialize, one after another, causing their supporters to turn their backs on them.
After Ma came to power, Taiwan’s freedom, democracy and judiciary have all taken huge steps backward, with press freedom taking the most severe blow. These issues caused Taiwan’s international reputation to suffer and inspired a resurgence of the localization movement. However, when it came to these issues, no one ever had too high of expectations for the conservative Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). The KMT has long spread the myth that it was the only party that understood finance, diplomacy and cross-strait relations, and the majority of the public fell into this trap. Many people think that as long as the KMT can do what they are supposedly good at, their problems are not all that important.
When Ma’s KMT predecessors ruled Taiwan, they created a miracle of high economic growth rates and even income distribution. Unfortunately, the values and policies of the old KMT were already getting old in the 1990s. After losing their hold on power in Taiwan in 2000, the KMT never seriously reviewed their values and policies, but instead started dreaming about their glory days.
After regaining political power in 2008, Ma invited many old officials back to handle national security and the economy. Vice President Vincent Siew (蕭萬長), who had been out of the loop for a long time, came back as vice president and directed financial affairs. Ma, himself an old official from the 1990s, got Su Chi (蘇起), also active in the 1990s, to lead the National Security Council and assist him in overseeing cross-strait relations and diplomacy. Ma firmly believed that setup would create economic prosperity and pave the way for smooth cross-strait relations and diplomacy.
Unexpectedly, Ma’s first economic promise — the “6-3-3” policy — became a joke almost as soon as he took office and afterward, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement caused more of Taiwan’s industries to move their operations to China. This was followed by large tax cuts to induce capital to return to Taiwan, but not having established a beneficial investment environment, this capital was instead used to speculate in real estate, pushing housing prices up. High housing costs have now become one of the greatest public complaints. In a hurried response to the problem, the government came up with the luxury tax, which will not really have much effect. This chaotic financial policy and a growing wealth gap is causing public hardship.
Ma also says that his “diplomatic truce” with China, based on the imaginary “1992 consensus” and placing cross relations above relations with other nations — has been a great success. However, on the eve of the World Health Assembly, classified documents surfaced showing that the WHO Secretariat had listed Taiwan as a “province of China.” This turned Ma’s much-touted “flexible diplomacy” into something more like “surrender diplomacy” and resulted in a public uproar.
After coming into office, Ma has continued to make grand promises regarding economics, finance, diplomacy and cross-strait relations, but because he has kowtowed to China to the point of being almost delusional, the last three years have revealed his beliefs for what they truly are — myths. The first myth to be dispelled was the financial myth and then on the eve of his anniversary, the cross-strait diplomacy myth was also dispelled. The poised manner in which Ma took power in 2008 has now given way to anxiety, and he has turned into a scared and panicked leader. Apart from fear and panic, he has nothing and has had no choice but to start abusing his opponent in next year’s presidential election, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), although the vast majority of what he says is a distortion of the facts. This has sullied his “nice guy” image.
With such an outdated mindset, it will be hard for this group of people hell-bent on ruling the nation to cut loose from the past and make a new start. With their old values, they have no idea where the crux of the matter lies, so all they can do is follow Ma’s lead in abusing other people. Will abusing other people really solve any problems? We will know the answer in just a little over half a year’s time.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
TRANSLATED BY DREW CAMERON
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