President Ma's Leadership Style
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 10, 2008
Ma Ying-jeou visits Berkeley in 2006
Summary: President Ma Ying-jeou probably never imagined in his entire life that his popularity would decline so much in such a short period of time. That it would resemble the Taiwan stock market insofar as the bottom is still nowhere in sight. One of the main reasons for this is his character and background. When you are the President, many things are your responsibility. Being virtuous is not enough. If the President was merely a figurehead, then there would be no need to fight tooth and nail over presidential elections. In fact, people do not want Ma Ying-jeou to become another Machievellian political schemer. But for Taiwan's democratic politics to progress, we need leaders who are more aggressive and more willing to sacrifice. So far, we are still waiting for Ma Ying-jeou to show greater concern for the nation than for himself.
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President Ma Ying-jeou probably never imagined in his entire life that his popularity would decline so much in such a short period of time. That it would resemble the Taiwan stock market insofar as the bottom is still nowhere in sight. One of the main reasons for this is his character and background.
Prominent political commentator Nanfang Shuo described Ma Ying-jeou's character as one of "gentle obstinacy." Former Control Yuan President Wang Tso-jung said that Ma Ying-jeou's family doted on him as a child, turning him into an egocentric personality indifferent to other peoples' circumstances and feelings. These evaluations of his character have highlighted a key point: Ma Ying-jeou's life and political rise has been far too easy. He has been the recipient of too much public adulation. This great fortune in the first half of his life, is now costing him dearly. Perhaps the credit and deficit columns in Ma's karmic account are about to be balanced.
Ma Ying-jeou was an only son. He was doted upon. He is a man of accomplishments, with exceptional breeding. He has impeccable manners, does everything by the book, and is honest to a fault. He is both erudite and athletic. He is a Harvard Ph.D who speaks fluent English, and an athlete who can run and swim with the best of them. No matter how you look at it, Ma Ying-jeou is the cream of the crop. Parents dream of raising such a son. He is a model student and Prince Charming, all rolled into one. He is like the lotus flower that flourishes amidst the muck of the political arena, but somehow manages to stay clean. As a result he has always remained popular. His legions of screaming fans rival those of major movie stars.
When we look back at Ma Ying-jeou's political career, we see smooth sailing all the way. He had no need to struggle to achieve his goals. His political career was served up to him on a silver platter. At times he found it hard to refuse. Only after the party begged him was he willing to enter the Taipei Mayoral Election. Eventually he would become the sole savior of the KMT and the Republic of China.
Ma Ying-jeou's qualifications were too good. Just by being himself he attracted public adulation. He had no need to do anything. Public adulation and honors automatically came his way. This made him extremely concerned about his image. Any defects or dark spots were intolerable. Because he never had to pay attention to other peoples' needs or feelings, he lacks sensitivity. He does not know how to contribute to others, how to engage in quid pro quo, and does not like dirty politics.
Unfortunately politics is everybody's business. It is hardly something one can engage in alone. Ma Ying-jeou is not good at it. He attaches little importance to interaction with others. His braintrust is too small and too inbred. Most of them are ivory tower intellectuals, politically unsophisticated, fearful of outsiders, isolated, and out of touch with the outside world. This leads to a lack of dissonance during the decision-making process. This undermines the quality and responsiveness of decision-making, and eventually leads to a backlash.
Ma Ying-jeou's list of Control Yuan and Examination Yuan nominees reveals concessions to realpolitik, an effort to defuse confrontation between the Blue and Green camps, and a good faith effort to be a "president to all the people." But the KMT's conduct during the subsequent review process was outrageous. By using innocent Examination Yuan and Control Yuan nominees as scapegoats in order to show Ma Ying-jeou who was boss, KMT legislators merely proved that they were malignant tumors that ought to be excised.
President Ma Ying-jeou is not without responsibility. He failed to consult with the legislature first. Once the matter was out in the open, he tried to be an effective President. But his innate character, remote and aloof, got in the way. His acquired skills failed him as well, due to inexperience. He failed to acknowledge his responsibility to ensure cooperation between his administration and his party. Ma Ying-jeou is like a little white rabbit who has been elected King of the Jungle, who only wants to sit on his throne and remain pure as the driven snow, shielded by his confidants, willing to do what is needed to polish his public image, but unwilling to dirty his paws by coming in contact with the jackals and hyenas. Lacking the necessary ruthlessness and calculation, he delegates the dirty work to others. The office may be elective. But power must be won. If this continues, the weak and pusillanimous little rabbit will soon be exposed for what he is, and the situation will only get worse.
When President Lee Teng-hui took office, he arrived powerless and empty-handed. He pitted one rival against another, gradually building up his power base. Ma Ying-jeou does not need to play these games. People are eager to please him. He is starting from a far more advantageous place. Unfortunately, upon being elected, Ma Ying-jeou has been treating the KMT as an instrument in his service. He feels no obligation to contribute to its political survival. He doesn't consider the reform of this creaky old political party as something he must achieve in order to enhance the quality of Taiwan's political culture. He champions no political philosophy, and offers no national vision. Whatever the Executive Yuan doesn't concern him. Isn't such a presidency just a little too carefree?
When you are the President, many things are your responsibility. Being virtuous is not enough. If the President was merely a figurehead, then there would be no need to fight tooth and nail over presidential elections. In fact, people do not want Ma Ying-jeou to become another Machievellian political schemer. But for Taiwan's democratic politics to progress, we need leaders who are more aggressive and more willing to sacrifice. So far, we are still waiting for Ma Ying-jeou to show greater concern for the nation than for himself.