Public Dissatisfaction with the Ma Administration should Inspire Reflection
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 1, 2010
President Ma Ying-jeou has ended his long journey and returned home. DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen quipped that seeing Ma's triumphant return to Taiwan made her "very sad." She was of course being ironic. Compare this to eight years under Chen Shui-bian. Whenever things went badly at thome, he used state visits to allies as pretexts to go abroad. When abroad he would comment on political controversies back home, using them to increase his prestige. Ma Ying-jeou's "lame" visit truly was sad.
People's memories are not that short. Just before Ma Ying-jeou left to visit allies, he racked up the worst ratings numbers since taking office. The Global News survey research center's latest data shows that Ma Ying-jeou's disapproval rating has increased to 66%. His approval rating has plummeted to 23%, below what it was during the 8/8 Floods. A variety of polls all point to an alarming reality, one the Blue Camp is unwilling to face. Ma Ying-jeou's popularity has fallen faster than people ever imagined. Unless Ma Ying-jeou makes some ground-breaking move, and demonstrates extraordinary courage and leadership, it will difficult for him to increase his support during the next two years and win re-election.
Ma Ying-jeou is aware of this crisis. During the two or three weeks before his state visits, he was in constant communication with the KMT legislative caucus. He used both the carrot and the stick to induce the Legislative Yuan pass a provisional amendment to the Local Government Act. He affirmed a sense of solidarity within the KMT. He also met with community leaders who previously disparaged him. Nor did he overlook "diehard Ma fans." One Ma fan said he "no longer felt anything." During his trip he was determined to find time to chat with grassroots Ma fans.
Immediately afterwards, he conferred over US beef imports and US arms sales to Taipei. He was in effect standing on the front lines. He forestalled the impending crisis between Taipei and Washington during the Legislative Yuan's previous session.
Three weeks have passed. Has Ma Ying-jeou's leadership crisis been resolved? We need not mince words. The situation has not improved. Community leaders' criticisms have not diminished merely because he stooped to hear what they had to say. It is impossible to detect any change in Ma Ying-jeou's leadership style or policies in such a short period of time. Ma Ying-jeou's notebook is now filled with a variety of views and suggestions. But he has yet to clearly and publicly respond to these suggestions. What exactly are community leaders dissatisfied with? What exactly did Ma Ying-jeou do in response to these elites demanding reform? Ma Ying-jeou has yet to account to these elite opinion leaders, let alone to the general public.
What about diehard Ma fans? Some grassroots supporters were lucky enough to meet with Ma personally. These grassroots supporters conveyed their views and their distress though blogs. This group of Ma fans are a small and powerless minority amidst over seven million Ma Ying-jeou supporters. They feel distress. But they also say "feeling is returning." In their eyes, Ma Ying-jeou is "the good guy." They blame the media for distorted coverage. Such feelings however, are unpredictable. Because from start to finish, Ma Ying-jeou remains that "perpetual good guy." But his role has changed. His responsibility has increased. Merely being a "good guy" may be enough for mayor or opposition party leader. But clearly it is not enough for the role of national leader.
In the dictionaries of most national leaders, being a "good guy" does not conflict with being a "capable leader." They can even mutually reinforcing. Being a "good guy" definitely does not mean being weak. Still less does it mean being indecisive when faced with crises. United States President Barack Obama's poll numbers have also explored new lows. The Democrats in Congress command far fewer seats than the KMT in the Legislative Yuan. But Obama stood up in Congress and clenched his fists, confidently calling on all Americans not to allow themselves to fall into second place! This is not simply a matter of public speaking skills. The problem is that Ma Ying-jeou does not feel the same sense of urgency in leading the country. Does he feel the same passion? Does he have the same desire to ensure better lives for his countrymen? Does he have the same conviction? Does he have the same faith that he can lead his countrymen to the "promised land?"
Even the most trusting and naive grass-roots Ma fan is not going to relate to Ma Ying-jeou the way a music or sports fan relates to his idol. When Ma Ying-jeou places his notebook on his knee and dutifully jots down every suggestion, just like an elementary school student, at that moment, Ma fans are genuinely moved. But what next? Will a Ma Ying-jeou incapable of taking decisive action still touch people's hearts? A "good guy" president's notes must be transformed into policy and even achievements. A major exam comes once every four years. Opporunites for make-up exams are rare.
Ma Ying-jeou spoke with community leaders. He visited friends. Ma Ying-jeou has been like a whirling dervish. He is anxious about his problems. He wants to deal with them. But has he really thought about them? If not, we sincerely appeal to the leaders of our nation, thinking about policy is the most critical factor for successful governance. Please give yourselves time to think. Consider everyones' suggestions. Engage in thorough self-examination. Ask yourselves why you have failed to meet their expectations. Think hard about how to come up with your own vision, with your own way to inspire the nation. Do that, and the next time it will be a whole new Ma Ying-jeou who stands before the people.