Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why President Ma is Tone Deaf to Public Sentiment

Why President Ma is Tone Deaf to Public Sentiment
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, Republic of China)
A Translation
October 24, 2013

Summary: After a month and a half of political pressure, the cabinet finally announced that it has reassigned two political appointees, and two vice ministers. Strangely enough, the replacement of four important political appointees has attracted little media attention. No one seems interested. Once again the Ma government has implemented another "clueless" cabinet personnel change.

Full text below:

After a month and a half of political pressure, the cabinet finally announced that it has reassigned two political appointees, and two vice ministers. Strangely enough, the replacement of four important political appointees has attracted little media attention. No one seems interested. Once again the Ma government has implemented another "clueless" cabinet personnel change.

It is easy to recall. Everyone remembers. Ma administration cabinet reshuffles have seldom excited the public. Recent political troubles led to popular discontent. People took to the streets to denounce Ma and throw shoes in protest. The Ma government cabinet reshuffle could have broken new ground, united public sentiment, and soothed public anxiety. Instead, when the new personnel list was announced, people felt nothing. Is the administration tone deaf to public sentiment? Or has the administration merely lost the will to make any breakthroughs?

Recent cabinet personnel changes were lackluster. The newcomers were not the problem. The problem was at the macro level. The personnel assignments signified nothing. The administration merely filled a row of empty seats. President Ma has been blasted for this since he took office five years ago. The government hires too many academics. They are much too alike. They lack the ability to innovate. They lack practical experience. This is why the Ma administration lacks the ability to respond to public sentiment, and why even today it continues to spin its wheels. When the ruling Ma administration runs into a major dilemma, troubles inside and outside the party become intensified. Under current circumstances, it cannot offer President Ma a new approach to governing. Needless to say, the public is deeply disappointed.

Take Andrew Hsia. He is a veteran of the diplomatic field. Four years ago, during Typhoon Morakot, he "politely declined foreign aid." As a result he was forced to resign from the Foreign Ministry and transferred overseas. The current reshuffling brought him home. Now he is filling the vacancy left when the Deputy Minister of Defence resigned in response to the Hung Chung-chiu scandal. This is not to say that diplomats cannot serve in the field of national defense, and vice versa. But four years ago Hsia was abruply removed from his post. Today he has been unexpectedly transferred to a military post. This shows that under President Ma, political appointees are "easy come, easy go." Andrew Hsia has been appointed Deputy Defense Minister. One can euphemistically say that he promoting "military diplomacy," and facilitating "military exchanges" with the United States. But is there really no one else in the military capable of filling that roles? Will appointing a diplomat to the post of Deputy MInister of Defense undermine military morale even more. Not long ago, Andrew Yang resigned after six days on the job, in response to allegations of plagiarism. Did the Ma administration learn nothing?

Now take Chen Yi-Hsing, who was forced to resign from the Ministry of Education for reneging on free tuition for 12 year compulsory education. Chen Yi-hsing did not "resign on his own." That was understandable. But an Executive Yuan news release said "his resignation was accepted." Why complicate the issue? Why make people suspicious? The fact is 12 year compulsory education cannot be totally free. There are important fiscal and fairness considerations. These need to be explained to the public. It is not necessary to throw a talented political appointee to the wolves. Suppose Chen Yi-hsing had upheld President Ma's political commitment on totally free tuition? He would eventually have been sacrificed. His allegedly "left upon fulfilling his mission." The administration was apparently not unconcerned about accusations that it was treating people like Kleenex.

The current round of personnel changes received few public accolades. If anything, they have instilled increased skepticism. People can smell the Ma administration's fear. President Ma remains isolated from the hoi polloi. He remains clueless about public expectations. This is where his real crisis lies. One. Political wrangling and low poll numbers have "shocked the system." Observers see no desire or effort on the part of President Ma to break out of his siege. Two. The Ma administration remains a poor judge of character. Its decision-making inner circle has apparently shrunk even further. This means it will have difficulty breaking out of its current policy dilemma and reversing its fate. Three. President Ma's National Day speech shows that he intends to devote most of his energy to cross-Strait relations and diplomacy. Unfortunately the public is more concerned about domestic issues, including political deadlock, economic stagnation, and social inequality. But Ma and Chiang personnel failed to meet public expectations. How can they regain public support?

Put simply, the recent personnel changes may have given the new recruits a career move of extraordinary significance. But they are the only beneficiaries. For the nation as a whole, President Ma has missed yet another opportunity to inspire the public and prove his worth. He has revealed passivity and negativity. He has adopted a caretaker mentality. He appears content to merely hold out until the end of his term. If so, this is bad news for Taiwan. A government content to remain mired in quicksand, wracked by indecision, that constantly tests the political winds, will never have the strength to venture forth and lead the nation.
2013.10.24 02:29 am








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