President Ma Ying-jeou: Teflon or Tyrant?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
June 7 2012
Summary: Some people say President Ma Ying-jeou is a Teflon president. They hope he will not "hang back from the front lines." Others accuse him of being a tyrant. They say he "sweats the small stuff." They say he cannot see the forest for the trees, and has all the vision of a section chief. These are two extreme characterizations. But are they really referring to the same person, to Ma Ying-jeou?
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Some people say President Ma Ying-jeou is a Teflon president. They hope he will not "hang back from the front lines." Others accuse him of being a tyrant. They say he "sweats the small stuff." They say he cannot see the forest for the trees, and has all the vision of a section chief. These are two extreme characterizations. But are they really referring to the same person, to Ma Ying-jeou?
President Ma first entered office in 2008. Not long afterwards, the "position himself on the front lines vs. retreat from the front lines" controversy erupted. The Legislative Yuan went its own way on Control Yuan, Examination Yuan appointments, and on the Sunshine Laws. Subsequent developments forced President Ma to return to the front lines. They forced him to assume the role of party chairman, and build bridges between the party and the administration. This four year long process can be evaluated from at least two perspectives.
One. The most fundamental issue is our constitutional framework. The current constitution stipulates that the Premier is the chief executive, and is answerable to the Legislative Yuan. The President must "retreat from the front lines." Otherwise he will usurp the authority of the Premier and the cabinet. But the voters elected the president through a direct vote. They expect him to assume full responsibility. The opposition parties set their sights on the presidency as their chief campaign goal. This process endlessly pushes all power and responsibility onto the presidency, leaving the President no room to "retreat from the front lines." President Ma wants to abide by dual-leadership system, but can't.
Two. The real problem is with the culture of democracy. To be fair, President Ma has demonstrated enormous restraint in the exercise of power. He hopes major decisions will be made through "democratic dialogue." But the democratic process is confrontational. It often leads to internal rebellion within the KMT. It often leads to opposition DPP incitement of social divisions. The real world consequence a ruling administration that in the eyes of the public has lost control. The US beef imports controversy is one example. The Ma administration's strategy is to "ensure a public forum." He hopes a public forum will enable experts to convince the people that US beef imports are harmless. He hopes this will affirm the legitimacy of his decision-making. But the public forum is already occupied by his opponents, inside and outside the party. They have already labeled the Ma administration "incompetent" and "a traitor to Taiwan." But this is democracy. Such developments are inevitable. Those in office must have the wisdom and ability avoid these pitfalls. They must not repeat the same mistakes. over and over again.
Allow us to summarize. One. A directly elected president cannot "retreat from the front lines." Never mind that the role of the president has departed from what is stipulated in the constitution. Two. Policies must be formulated and implement through the democratic process. But one must realize that confrontations will inevitably lead to chaos and to charges of "incompetence."
But if the President "must take a position on the front lines," how can we maintain the form and substance of the dual-leadership system? How can we uphold democracy while avoiding the chaos resulting from the democratic process, not to mention charges of "incompetence?"
The Ma administration says that peace begins at home. Electricity price hikes were actually imposed the day before they were announced. The five-member group reversed its decision and adopted a three-stage incremental rate hike. KMT legislators blasted the capital gains tax from day one. When time came to review the tax bill, they concocted their own version. The process revealed the fragmentation and chaos within the party. Some even took advantage of the occasion to engage in shameless self-promotion. The internal chaos encouraged and legitimized the opposition DPP's obstructionism. This chaos was not "intra-party democracy." It was merely incompetence.
Given the situation, some people want President Ma to "man up." In other words, to behave more tyrannically. But we believe he should instead increase democratic cooperation between the Presidential Office, the cabinet, the party, and the Legislative Yuan. For example, the five-member group must find a way to reach consensus. It must not air the party's dirty laundry in public. By the same token, the cabinet and the Legislative Yuan must consult with each other. They must ensure party/administration cooperation. The Secretary-General of the cabinet must not accuse ministers of ducking him. The administration and the ruling party must establish a democratic mechanism that does not air its laundry in public. Dissenting views must be thoroughly dealt with inhouse. Only then can they speak with one voice without.
In fact, the term "political policy" can be broken into two words, "political" and "policy." The term "political" may refer to a program. The term "policy" may refer to a method. The program should be conceived by a capable think-tank. It should subject the program to detailed evaluation. It should not flip-flop repeatedly. Only then can it offer a sound and convincing program. It must have a method or a technique. Only tnen can it sail through the democratic process, reduce resistance, and reach fruition. Take the gasoline and electricity price hikes and the capital gains tax. The programs were controversial. The methods to promote them were inept. Internal and external opposition and a hostile environment were coupled with a leader who flip-flopped repeatedly. The political policy failed, both as politics and as policy. The result was a mess.
This is practical politics. President Ma cannot be a Teflon president. And being a Teflon tyrant is not his style. He must promote a policy of democratic conflict management. He must prevent political turmoil from exacting an exorbitant social cost. Some accuse the administration of being incompetent. But they must acknowledge that democracy requires cooperation between the presdential office, the cabinet, the legislature, and the ruling party. This is what is meant by the expression, "peace begins at home."