Ma Administration Must Understand Public Discontent
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 21, 2012
Summary: President Ma Ying-jeou has been inaugurated to a second term amidst
cries of protest. When re-elected, he vowed to leave behind a legacy.
This makes his current situation doubly ironic. President Ma surely did
not expect his second term to begin this way. His feelings are written
all over his face. Can President Ma reverse the decline in his approval
rating over the next four years? Can he change how the public feels
about his administration?
Full Text below:
President Ma Ying-jeou has been inaugurated to a second term amid street protests. When re-elected, he vowed to leave behind a shining legacy. This makes his current situation doubly ironic. President Ma surely did not expect his second term to begin this way. His feelings are written on his face. Can President Ma reverse the decline in his approval rating over the next four years? Can he change how the public feels about his administration?
It is inherently difficult for a democratically elected president to win the support of the public as whole. This is especially true when partisan political rivalry is intense. History often cannot render a verdict until a president has stepped down and time has passed. Only then can his virtues shine. If Ma Ying-jeou were leaving office today, he could do so with a clear conscience. He could ignore politically motivated protests aimed at seizing power. But today is the beginning of his second term. He still has four times 365 days to get through. Every day important decisions must be made, The president is the leader of the nation. If one day for him feels like a year, imagine what it feel like for ordinary citizens.
President Ma downplayed the celebrations as much as possible. He put his own feelings last. He must ask himself, "How did it come to this?" In his inauguration speech, President Ma broke down the past four years. He spoke of the global financial tsunami and Typhoon Morakot. He spoke of cleaning up corruption, of streamlining the central government, of upgrading three municipalities, of ensuring six decades of peace across the Taiwan Strait, of winning visa-free entry to 127 countries and regions for Republic of China citizens. These achievements are not merely talking points in a presidential speech. They are real. They happened. So why are people still dissatisfied?
The Ma administration must understand public sentiment. To some degree its achievements can withstand public scrutiny. Otherwise, in a closely contested race, Ma Ying-jeou would not have been re-elected. A four month gap separated his re-election and his inauguration. The Ma administration reached a watershed during the cabinet reshuffle. The Sean Chen cabinet received high praise -- until the Legislative Yuan convened. A number of policies required Legislative Yuan review. The review revealed the utter lack of coordination between the presidential office, the party, and and the legislature. If anything, they worked against each other. This led to serious grievances concerning administration policy. Even when President Ma was being sworn in, no solution was in sight.
During his second inaugural address, President Ma set forth "five pillars." These five pillars would enhance Taiwan's international competitiveness. They would enable Taiwan to undergo an economic rebirth over the next four years. But protesters were furious. They were in no mood to listen to the President's rosy scenarios about where Taiwan must go. Public anger was visceral, emotional. The president's itemized accounting of administration achievements did nothing to win people over. It did nothing to address public grievances. It did nothing to improve his approval ratings, which were at their nadir.
The protesters cared nothing about President Ma's promises. The Ma administration however, must. It must achieve its objectives. It must recruit the necessary talent. It must ensure that Taiwan meets international standards. It can no longer delay, not even for a moment. Otherwise it will reinforce doubts about the Ma administration's competence and determination.
In his second inaugural speech, President Ma spoke of maintaining the status quo in cross-Strait relations and policy. Cross-Strait policy is the Ma administration's most important achievement. Stability must be maintained over the next four years. The atmosphere must be improved. President Ma once again called for dialogue between the government and the opposition. He wants to set a precedent. This is something the opposition must treat seriously.
The Republic of China belongs to everyone. The fate of the nation does not rest on the shoulders of the president alone. One week after the president is inaugurated, the DPP will elect a new party chairman. The DPP lost power in 2008. How will it rebuild public confidence in its effort to return to power? Street protests alone are clearly not enough. DPP policy must enable it to dialogue with the ruling KMT. Criticizing the presidential office for putting up barricades against the protesters, merely reveals the DPP's policy vacuum. The barbed wire in front of the presidential office was installed by the DPP when Chen Shui-bian was in office. The barricades were added by Lee Teng-hui when he was in office. This is how democratic Taiwan normally deals with mass movements. It is hardly unique to the Ma administration.
As head of state, President Ma seeks dialogue between the ruling and opposition parties. He must ask himself what can the ruling party offer. What will make it impossible for the opposition DPP to say no. The last thing he needs to consider is "setting a precedent." Lee Teng-hui set a precedent. He helped the opposition DPP raise funds. He even established a political party subsidy system. Chen Shui-bian set a precedent. He dialogued with the opposition parties. But Chen's Machiavellian intrigues did not promote harmony. On the contrary, they deepened divisions. President Ma should take note of Lee and Chen's precedents. He should stop fantasizing about ruling and opposition party dialogue. He should simply do what must be done.
Taiwan is our home. President Ma invoked Mainland author Han Han, who said that even Mainland tourists visiting Taiwan praise Taiwan. Even foreign tourists feel a connection to the people of Taiwan. The Ma administration has no excuse for alienating the public. The Ma Ying-jeou administration and the Sean Chen cabinet must do better.