Given that it was the presidential inauguration, Sunday should have been a joyous occasion, but few felt like smiling. President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) received 51.6 percent of the votes in the Jan. 14 election, handing him a second term in office and yet, even before he was sworn in, many were regretting their decision. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday calling on Ma to step down and the media, regardless of political affiliation, are unanimous in their criticism and disapproval of the government’s performance. Premier Sean Chen’s (陳冲) fledgling Cabinet is already in peril, but how have things come to this?
It is true that Ma’s popularity has been this low before — in the first year of his presidency, in fact, following the government’s poor handling of the Typhoon Morakot disaster in 2008. Looking back over how he dealt with things back then and how he is handling the current crisis, it would seem that Ma has not learned from his mistakes. Things that the public and the press were complaining about then are similar to what they are irked with now.
There is something about the way Ma’s personality traits — his elitism, his narcissism, his preoccupation with his public image have conspired to create a distance between him and ordinary folk. Even his “long stay” initiative was mere pre-election political posturing and he was only able to pull it off the first time round. If the initiative had succeeded in closing that distance during his re-election campaign, Ma would have had an easy stroll in the election. As it turned out, he had a battle on his hands.
From the start, Ma has considered himself above anyone else and finds it hard to countenance legislators who are elected by grass-roots voters. In his eyes, the legislature is little more than a cabal of troublemakers.
There are quite a few people with doctorates in Ma’s Cabinet — in fact, it may be one of the world’s most educated, but while the academic credentials are impressive, the current Cabinet’s members are clueless about how the other half live. They are aloof and possessed of grandiose schemes, but lack the ability to implement these schemes and have entirely no sense of how to work as a team. They have too much in common with Ma and are utterly unaware of the system’s potential pitfalls, which explains how they can make ill-considered decisions such as the fuel and electricity price hikes. There was no holding back Minister of Finance Christina Liu (劉憶如) when she got into her head the idea of taxing capital gains on stock transactions, announcing the policy before the sums had been done. Consequently, the government was caught unawares by the public’s anger at the policy.
Even though Ma can see how angry people are, don’t hold your breath: There will be no change on planned price hikes; the relaxing of the ban on US beef imports containing the leanness-enhancer ractopamine will go ahead; the government will still levy its capital gains tax; there will be no shift regarding plans to construct the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant; and the Cabinet will remain unchanged. When all this passes, everything will be as it was before, with little or no consultation or communication on policy. The public will have to do as the government says, as it has no intention of changing course.