A Lesson for Ma Ying-jeou: A True Leader Does Not Hide behind a Maginot Line
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 2, 2008
On June 9, 20 days after President Ma took office, the United Daily News published an editorial entitled: Complementary rule: Joint Governance: Redefine the "Dual-Leadership System."
Today, President Ma's "retreat to the second line" has become a topic of discussion. Ma Ying-jeou has "retreated to the second line," and drawn a clear line of distinction between himself and the Executive Yuan. He has also reiterated that he "absolutely will not assume the party chairmanship," and drawn a clear line of distinction between himself and the KMT. Doesn't this scenario remind you of a painter who has painted himself into a corner?
According to a poll conducted by the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission (RDEC), President Ma's approval rating now stands at a mere 48 percent. His disapproval rating now stands at a whopping 38 percent. One reason is that the new leader the public was hoping for failed to appear. Everyone is wondering, "Where the hell is Ma Ying-jeou?"
During direct presidential elections, the public tends to have high hopes for a new leader. The new leader must be someone willing to stand on the front lines. This was especially true of the direct presidential election in 2008.
A true leader stands on the front line. He sets the nation's direction, bears the nation's burdens, and offers the nation hope. Ma Ying-jeou, alas, has done just the opposite. He has promptly retreated to the second line. This "President has vanished" phenomenon has had a devastating impact on public morale.
Ma's "retreat to the second line" is rooted in the "dual-leadership system." But even for France's Fifth Republic, the source of the dual-leadership system, the President and the ruling majority in Parliament belong to the same party. The President has no need to "retreat to the second line." President Ma and the ruling majority in the Legislative Yuan both belong to the KMT. The dual-leadership system must not be so narrowly defined that the president may only deal with "cross-strait, international diplomacy, and national defense" issues. The President must concern himself with more than fulfilling campaign promises. To define the dual-leadership system this way distorts its meaning. It represents the mindset of legal hacks and slaves to the law. The President does not always need to make a public appearance. For example, he does not always need to show up at the site of a natural disaster. But he must always pay attention to policy developments. He must, for example, telephone the Premier about disaster relief measures. The distance between the "front line" and the "second-line" has to be more than just the distance between the President's position and the Premier's position during a photo op.
Take the Chuang Kuo-rong incident for example. President Ma and Premier Liu could have discussed the matter and recommended that the Ministry of Education respond to the National Chengchi University in a manner consistent with the requirements of law, logic, and human feelings. The problem could have been resolved appropriately. The President should not have publicly criticized the Teacher Evaluation Committee for allegedly "exacting a punishment disproportionate to the crime." Has the President retreated to the second line relative to the Executive Yuan, only to advance to the front line by directly interfering with campus affairs?
Relations between President Ma and the Executive Yuan, and relations between President Ma and the KMT boil down to: 1. Connections 2. Distinctions Connections are indispensable. Without connections the President has no right to comment on whether rural elementary schools ought to be merged. Without connections, all he can do is act as a figurehead. Obviously this is untenable. Distinctions are essential as well. But one must not cite distinctions to "retreat to the second line," to "refuse the party chairmanship," or to "sever all connections" and shirk one's duties.
The public is wondering, "Where is Ma Ying-jeou?" The public is saying, "Our leader has vanished." That's because Ma Ying-jeou has failed to establish the necessary connections between the President and the Executive Yuan, and the President and the ruling party. A new leader must establish such connections. Instead, Ma could hardly wait to distance himself from the Executive Yuan and the ruling party. Hence the perception that our new leader has gone AWOL. Many people are asking whether this is the result of attempts to implement a "dual-leadership system," and to ensure the "separation of party and government?" Many people are asking whether this the ultimate expression of a "dual-leadership system" and the "separation of party and government?" Or is it merely the result of President Ma's attempt to cower behind a Maginot Line?
Ma Ying-jeou failed to establish an image of himself as a new leader and a genuine leader during the Presidential Election. Instead, he left the impression that he has adopted a defensive posture, that he is concerned only about protecting himself, and has promptly built a firewall around himself. Such suspicions may be the reason Ma's approval ratings have steadily declined. If such doubts continue to accumulate, people will wonder whether Ma is a leader who takes responsibility. President Ma must remain alert. Uncertainty may turn into doubt. Doubt may turn into contempt. Contempt may turn into hostility.
Ma speaks of "Retreating to the Second Line." Such talk has cast doubt on Ma's views, even on such minor issues as the merger of primary schools. Ma speaks of "Refusing to assume the party chairmanship." But can he really allow the chaos within the KMT Legislative Caucus to continue? Hasn't President Ma painted himself into a corner? Yes, distinctions are essential. But connections are even more important. Without connections one can never be a leader.
President Ma Ying-jeou should become the new leader he aspires to be. True leaders do not hide behind firewalls.
2008.07.02 03:32 am