Pick the Peoples' Brains, Find a Solution for Taiwan
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 22, 2013
Summary: We would like to remind the public on Taiwan that blaming every problem, large or small, on "presidential incompetence" is unfair. It does not help. We would also like to remind the president that wielding immense power and resources, but failing to respond to people's aspirations, is an intolerable tragedy.
Full Text below:
President Ma proclaimed that he wanted to be "a president to all the people." But five years have gone by. He has not become "a president to all the people." Instead, his approval rating has hit rock bottom. Let us look back. Let us see if we can better understand why. The cause of Ma Ying-jeou's predicament is not confined to irreconciliable Blue vs. Green differences. He shrank his own leadership role to administrative decision-making. He neglected his party. He almost forgot the existence of the people.
Leave aside for the moment opposition party obstructionism. Government efficiency rests mainly on two pillars, ruling adminstration efficiency, and ruling party fighting spirit. President Ma's administration has offered few solutions to Taiwan's political and social problems. Leave aside his dispirited policy implementation. Under President Ma's leadership for the past five years, the ruling party has undergone a fundamental change in its makeup. Its legislative caucus members frequently sing a different tune from the central government. They frequently obstruct its policy proposals. Given an undisciplined party and a lax administration, the Ma administration has squandered the Blue Camp's supermajority and a golden opportunity for reform. It has dashed the public's hopes for Taiwan's transformation.
The president's character has been a major factor. Consider the systemic roots of the problem. This newspaper's polls show that 74% of the public is dissatisfied with the ruling administration's performance. This is higher than the 69% who are dissatisfied with President Ma's performance. Clearly the ruling administration's weakness and ineptitude is the main reason Ma has lost popularity. The Ma administration has undergone several cabinet reshuffles over the past five years. But these have merely amounted to tinkering around the edges. When President Ma holds forth on national policy, one seldom hears fresh thinking or creative insights. Clearly the decision-making circles in his brain trust have been unable to provide him with any extraordinary advice.
The adminstration's ineptitude, is due in part to the sinister political atmosphere that has prevailed in recent years. Intelligent people have no desire to become involved in politics. But another factor is President Ma's inability to judge character, and his inability to use people. President Ma does everything by the book. He is often obstinate about such matters. This makes it difficult for him to understand the current situation or offer a strong defense of his position. This, coupled with cabinet officials accustomed to following orders, and Blue vs. Green legislative gridlock, the machinery of state has ground to a halt. How can it possibly respond deftly to internal and external developments?
President Ma may say that he often visits the countryside and participates in civic activities. He may say that accusations he has forgotten the people are unfair. But the issue is how he perceives the people. President Ma does indeed often visit the countryside or participate in civic activities. But is he merely engaging in "noblesse oblige?" Is he merely blessing the event with his presence? Is he merely putting on a show of being "close to his constituents." If so, then it is the misuse of a national leader's precious time and power. It matters not whether the two parties enjoy the process. It is not beneficial to overall national policy. Put more bluntly, it is more akin to electioneering. It has nothing to do with soliciting public opinion.
President Ma must draw upon the strength and wisdom of the public. The reasons are clear. First of all, Taiwan's economic hardships must be overcome. But for the past five years the ruling administration has exhausted its programs, all to no effect. It must now draw upon the wisdom of the private sector. Only this can avoid public sector blind spots. Secondly, Blue-Green reconciliation has stalled. President Ma has refused to convene a National Affairs Conference, such as that proposed by the opposition DPP. The government and the opposition have almost no room for negotiation. This deadlock must be broken. The most feasible approach is for non-governmental elements to reestablish a social consensus. Thirdly, President Ma's approval rating is now only 20%. The public is either cynical or dazed. The administration must draw upon the intellect of the private sector. It must have the humility to consult civil society. It must reverse this cynical mindset, Otherwise over the next three years Taiwan will be unable to move.
The Ma administration has no lack of erudition. But these elites lack the ability to inspire men's hearts. They even lack communication skills and the ability to persuade. They may be good at contemplating the issues. But they are often inept at finding solutions and putting them into practice. Compare this to the DPP era. Chen Shui-bian's populism incited public passions. It brimmed over with boastfulness. Its rashness concealed hidden dangers. By contrast, Ma Ying-jeou's populism is motivated by the desire to please, by an overweening desire to be liked. It shifts direction like the wind, according to the likes and dislikes of the outside world. It invariably falls victim to the "Father and Son Ride a Donkey" syndrome, and finds it is unable to please all the people all the time. The Chen administration's populism relied on intuition. It required little knowledge. The Ma administration, on the other hand, has a surfeit of theory, and an excesso fpopulist pretensions. Its implementation cannot keep pace with its aspirations.
During an era of peace, Ma Ying-jeou might have been an ideal president. Today, faced with thorny problems such as stagnant growth, a lack of competitiveness, youth unemployment, and social discontent. a strong helmsman is needed to lead the country. The administration lacks the necessary dynamism. President Ma must draw upon the intellect of the private sector. This includes members of his brain trust whom he has forgotten about, his national policy advisers and other elites. He must rally the people to action. He must break the pattern of "the government is working overtime, but the public experiences no benefits" phenomenon.
We would like to remind the public on Taiwan that blaming every problem, large or small, on "presidential incompetence" is unfair. It does not help. We would also like to remind the president that wielding immense power and resources, but failing to respond to people's aspirations, is an intolerable tragedy.
2013.05.22 04:15 am