President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has been a political star since entering politics. However, as he is slated to be inaugurated today, public support for him hit a record-low of 23 percent in the latest poll, released on Friday by the Chinese-language United Daily News.
The figure, compared with an average approval rate of between 60 percent and 70 percent following his inauguration in 2008, reflects a serious public backlash against his performance over the past four years.
A politician who has long paid great attention to his public image and tried hard to please the public, Ma made a 180o shift in attitude after he won re-election in January, as he vowed to leave a legacy and make bold reforms without the pressure of seeking re-election.
Ma subsequently introduced a series of policies that drew public ire. The policies — from the plan to relax the ban on beef containing ractopamine to electricity and fuel price hikes and the proposed capital gains tax — drew a growing public outcry.
Ma brushed off criticism that he lacked understanding of people’s pain and insisted on implementing the policies until the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) dramatic defeat in the Lugang Township (鹿港) mayoral by-election to the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) last month prompted him to delay the electricity price hikes.
Ma’s critics describe him as a stubborn and arrogant politician who lacks communication and negotiation skills both as president and KMT chairman.
Shih Cheng-feng (施正鋒), a political commentator from National Tunghua University, said previous victories in elections and popularity among pan-blue supporters have helped Ma sail through political storms in the past, despite his poor performance and problematic relations with the KMT’s local factions. However, with such low public support, times have changed for Ma, and even party members have started to turn their backs on him.
“The KMT legislative caucus refused to endorse the Cabinet’s draft bill on the capital gains tax, and it is a warning for Ma, because he is losing the reins even in his own party. His reluctance to communicate with party legislators is no news, but legislators will not be as cooperative as before because they cannot afford to ignore public opinion,” he said.
The KMT caucus strayed from the party line earlier this month when a government-proposed amendment seeking to conditionally relax a ban on imports of beef containing residue of the livestock feed additive ractopamine was voted down during a preliminary review because KMT Legislator Cheng Ju-fen (鄭汝芬) was deliberately absent.
Its open revolt continued as it blocked the Ministry of Finance’s version of a capital gains tax proposal the next day.
Even KMT Legislator Wu Yu-sheng (吳育昇), who has been labeled a loyal soldier of Ma, complained about the Cabinet’s lack of communication with the legislature about its policies and said: “The KMT caucus will not do whatever the executive branch wants the caucus to do from now on.”
Talk of an “anti-Ma” force within the KMT also began to circulate after some party members suggested that Ma should resign as KMT chairman and focus on his duties as the president.
Political analyst Yang Tai-shun (楊泰順) said Ma, who won the presidential re-election in January with 51.6 percent of vote, suffered a public backlash in such a short time because he failed to promote major policies that truly benefit the public and demonstrate his leadership.
The government’s recent policies — on US beef imports, electricity and fuel price hikes and a capital gains tax — reflected Ma’s negligence of people’s pain and a flip-flop policy-making process, he said.
For example, it is necessary to adjust fuel and electricity prices to reflect market cost, but the Ma administration failed to immediately respond to the public outcry over the policy and did not present measures to handle the rising consumer goods prices that would result.
Although Ma later announced the government would adjust electricity prices in three stages instead, it only exposed the government’s flip-flops in policymaking and poor communication skills, he said.
Ku Chung-hwa (顧忠華) of legislative watchdog Citizen Congress Watch said that Ma’s problem has always been acting arbitrarily and the problem could get worse during Ma’s second term, now that he is not seeking re-election.
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