How Can the Ma Administration Redeem Itself?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
August 7, 2013
Summary: To characterize the Ma administration as "bruised and battered" would be an understatement. President Ma's low personal approval rating is perhaps most embarrassing of all. His public support continues to slide. It is even lower than that of President Chen Shui-bian's when he finally stepped down. The Hung Chung-chiu case rages on. President Ma has repeatedly bowed and apologized. As he walked to Hung Chung-chiu's funeral, members of the public hurled insults at him. Surely he can never forget the look in people's eyes. He must find it unbearable.
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To characterize the Ma administration as "bruised and battered" would be an understatement. President Ma's low personal approval rating is perhaps most embarrassing of all. His public support continues to slide. It is even lower than that of President Chen Shui-bian's when he finally stepped down. The Hung Chung-chiu case rages on. President Ma has repeatedly bowed and apologized. As he walked to Hung Chung-chiu's funeral, members of the public hurled insults at him. Surely he can never forget the look in people's eyes. He must find it unbearable.
President Ma himself is honest and upright. His entire ruling team is also industrious, His cabinet members have worked hard. They have worked so hard that Premier Chiang told them, "It is time to take a break." What is one to make of the situation?
One cannot say that the administration has done nothing. During an internal KMT meeting, President Ma choked back tears. He spoke of ECFA, and of visa-free treatment from over one hundred countries. He could not understand the gap between his self image and public opinion. Premier Chiang Yi-hua underscored the need to make the public understand that the government is actually doing something. Obviously the administration is aware of and afraid of public discontent, and wants to do better.
The government has been doing something. But it has not done them right, or done them well. The long economic slump has led to accumulated grievances. Consider recent headlines. At times the people need the government, but the government appears indifferent. This happened during the Kuang Ta Hsing incident. At times the people do not need the government, but the government insists on meddling regardless. This happened during the Ta Pu case. At times the government may do something that affects the public, but fails to communicate in advance. This happened with TISA. The public may express disagreement, but feel it is being manipulated. This happened with the referendum on the Number Four Nuclear Power Plant. Such scenes have been reenacted again and again. People have certain expectations from government. They have placed their trust in public authority. But the government is often ahead of the curve at one moment, then behind the curve the next. As a result, it is perceived as incompetent.
The government is often incompetent. It works hard, but it fails to work well. It is often damned if it does, and damned if it doesn't. Often the more it does, the worse the results. A number of examples come to mind. One. It formulates the correct policy, but is terrified to come forth to defend it. This includes little things such as electricity rate hikes to reduce consumption. This are consistent with environmental principles, yet the government does not dare to defend it. This includes big things such as TISA. The government allowed opponents to shrilly denounce it. The ruling party was afraid to raise a peep. The government's failure to communicate in advance is one of its major failings. In fact, liberalization is both universal and inevitable. The government's ECDC agreement with New Zealand failed to meet public expectations regarding major Kiwifruit price cuts. Meanwhile, Shi Ya-ping defended TISA by arguing that beauty parlors would feel little impact. How can this style of governance win any respect? How can it convince the public that its policies are beneficial?
Two. The government makes the same mistake, over and over again. During the U.S. beef imports controversy, the government was wrong to make a commitment to the United States first, then communicate and consult with the legislature after the fact. During TISA negotiations, it made exactly the same mistake. It makes the same mistake over and over again. What's worse, it shirks responsibility and passes the buck. The recent conduct of the military is a good example. During Typhoon Morakot, it blamed inaccurate weather forecasts. The U.S. beef imports controversy was the result of the newly appointed Director of Health Yang Chi-liang's verbal gaffes. Government officials never admit "I made a mistake. I am responsible."
Three. As soon as the government feels any political heat, it changes its tune, and reverses its policy. This has virtually become a trademark of Ma administration decision-making. This happened with subsidies for elderly farmers, the capital gains tax, 12 year compulsory education, and the accounting farce in the legislature. All of them reveal a lack of a guiding principles in its decision-making. All of them reveal an unseemly eagerness to pander to mob sentiment.
Four. The government often fails to compromise on policy. It often favors certain special interest groups. Its pension reform favored civil service employees over labor. Its business tax cuts favored industry but allowed the treasury to suffer. Meanwhile, basic wages are raised by the price of a "hard boiled egg," and only after all manner of foot-dragging. This uneven distribution of wealth is a major source of resentment. The government's decision-making lacks coherence. No wonder the public always feel that the government is robbing the poor to pay the rich.
In sum, the government does not dare to come forward and defend its policies. It repeats the same mistakes, over and over. It is indifferent to right and wrong. Whenever it encounters public resistance, it performs an about face. Whenever it changes its policy, it leaves the impression that it has caved in to special interest groups. This manner of governance has left us with an administration indifferent to right and wrong, and afraid to stick to its principles during the formulation and implementation of policy. Whenever a controversy arises, it runs for cover. How can such an administration not create chaos?
The government has been blasted so long and so hard it has lost confidence in itself. This is not good for the remaining three years of the Ma administration. We hope however, that the administration will try to pull itself together and govern well. Recently, during a White Shirts gathering on Ketegelan Boulevard, Premier Chiang Yi-hua made a public commitment to radical reform. This is a case of "better late than never." But it may restore some degree of public confidence. We hope the government will rid itself of its wooden image as soon as possible. We hope it will spring back into action, and demonstrate courage and wisdom. Only then can it redeem itself in the eyes of the public.
2013.08.07 01:28 am