Ma Ying-jeou's Million Vote Wake Up Call
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
January 20, 2011
Summary: The recently concluded general election was a stormy process. Ma Ying-jeou had the advantage of the incumbency, Nevertheless his race against Tsai Ing-wen was closely fought. President Ma surely must have thought long and hard about why. Now he has been reelected. But President Ma received nearly 800,000 votes fewer than he did the first time. His lead shrunk by over one million votes. This was a wake up call that he must keep in mind. He must listen to others' heartfelt advice and make the necessary changes. Only then can he avoid repeating the same mistakes.
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The recently concluded general election was a stormy process. Ma Ying-jeou had the advantage of the incumbency, Nevertheless his race against Tsai Ing-wen was closely fought. President Ma surely must have thought long and hard about why. Now he has been reelected. But President Ma received nearly 800,000 votes fewer than he did the first time. His lead shrunk by over one million votes. This was a wake up call that he must keep in mind. He must listen to others' heartfelt advice and make the necessary changes. Only then can he avoid repeating the same mistakes.
President Ma has certain strengths. He is an individual of integrity. He has done an outstanding job of maintaining cross-Strait peace, and upholding the public image of the President of the Republic of China. These are among the many reasons for his election victory. He has been reaffirmed by the voters. On the other hand, the Ma administration mishandled domestic issues. It left people the impression that it is slow to respond. This includes the pace of economic development. social policy, even its handling of individual cases. Sometimes it was indecisive. At other times it affected bureaucratic airs. This provoked public discontent. These are public grievances for which Ma Ying-jeou must accept unconditional responsibility.
The discrepancy between the Ma administration's governance internally vs. externally is the result of two problems. One. President Ma has not made the best use of the human talent available to him. Two. President Ma is often tone-deaf and color-blind. Regarding problem number one, the consensus is that the Ma administration is too inbred, too incestuous, hence too narrow in its vision. This leads to policy-making blind spots. To correct this problem, the cabinet must be reshuffled. Problem number two is Ma Ying-jeou's personal limitations resulting from his development as an individual. Some feel he lacks empathy for others. His manner is stiff. He is preoccupied with humility and moderation. As a result his cabinet was unable to exercise the necessary initiative. His administration conveyed the impression that it lacked drive and creativity. These shortcomings undermined his personal image and hurt his reelection prospects. These are problems he must address during his second term in office.
In short, during President Ma's first term, society was immersed in a "post-Chen" atmosphere. The number one concern was fighting corruption. Therefore President Ma's preoccupation with personal integrity was understandable. But when assessing a head of state, personal integrity is merely a baseline. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition for good governance. President Ma must offer a more comprehensive, effective, and forward-looking strategy for national governance. Only then can he meet the public's expectations. Ma's first four year term was all about "healing" and "recuperation." President Ma used the time to put Taiwan back on track. During the next four years, he must set higher goals. This includes advancing a national vision, healing the "ethnic" (communal) rifts, and establishing a more equitable society. This will enable Taiwan to emerge from political wheel-spinning and realize its collective goal of national transformation. These are not goals that empty slogans such as "Create a Golden Decade" can communicate.
A new vision is clearly not something the Ma administration can achieve during its remaining time in office. Therefore, in addition to reshuffling his cabinet, President Ma must seek people of talent and virtue in the larger community. He must recruit more people of talent and virtue to act as his eyes and ears and his strategic advisors. This task is no less important that talking with leaders of the opposition every six months or so. More importantly, President Ma must confer the necessary authority and resources upon these experts. This will enable them to do their job, and spare him the need to personally attend to everything. Ma is a head of state. He must focus on the vital task of overall system management. He must not allow himself to become bogged down in administrative details. This requires inevitable trade-offs. Over the past three years, Ma Ying-jeou has made a Herculean effort to demonstrate his proficiency in all matters large and small. But he merely left the public with the impression that he is preoccupied with trivialities, that he lacks the stature and charisma appropriate to a head of state. This is a lesson he must learn.
The dust from the election has now settled. President Ma faces a new situation. In some respects, the situation is favorable. He still retains the support of over half the electorate. His party still commands a clear majority in the legislature. This will enable him to promote his policies. His policy of cross-Strait reconciliation has been vetted by the citizenry. He can cast aside the label of "selling out Taiwan" that Taiwan independence extremists attempted to attach to him. In other respects, the situation is unfavorable. Taiwan's north-south divide is increasingly evident. Blue vs. Green confrontation remains serious. Social inequality is increasing. All these problems are more serious than they were before. The European debt crisis and the sluggish world economy will make Taiwan's economic recovery more difficult. In addition, President Ma himself may be exempt from election pressures, But the situation within the Blue Camp remains unclear. Reform within the KMT still has a long way to go. These burdens allow little time for relaxation.
President Ma won a tense and hard fought race. He won public approval for a second term. But he also revealed his character flaws through his leadership style. Some have accused Ma Ying-jeou of "fear mongering" during the election campaign. The opposite is true. President Ma was far too low-keyed, far too defensive. This was the main reason for his diminished personal charisma. In particular, he persisted in repeating the same details over and over again. He left voters with the impression that he was long-winded, that he lacked vision, and that he was insulting people's intelligence. During his second term, he can continue reaching out to the public. But no matter what, he must reestablish his stature as a national leader.
We do not know whether President Ma wrote a concession speech before the votes were counted. But voters are fickle. He must remain humble and alert. That will be the key to success over the next four years.