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Neihu MRT flap shows Ma's true character

Neihu MRT flap shows Ma's true character

President Ma Ying-jeou won back Taiwan for his right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) last March based on his promise of offering cleaner, more decent and more capable leadership and the uniquely charming personality which propelled him to previously win two terms as Taipei City mayor.
However, Ma's case illustrates how a politician's carefully constructed image can gradually shatter when faced with the mirror of his actual administrative performance.
After only 14 months in power, Ma has already broken most of his campaign promises, including his core "633" commitment to realize over six percent annual economic growth, reduce the unemployment rate to less than three percent by 2012 and boost per capita income to US$30,000 by 2016. With just 0.12 percent growth last year and an expected 4.5 percent contraction this year, realizing average six percent economic growth through 2016, assuming Ma wins a second term in 2012, is already impossible.
Similarly, the rise of the unemployment rate to 5.94 percent as of July excludes any chance of attaining the second target, while the contraction of per capita income from US$17,083 in 2008 to a forecast US$15,840 this year has put the third goal out of reach barring an unlikely dramatic appreciation of the value of the New Taiwan dollar against the greenback.
By claiming that the economic decline was entirely due to the global financial tsunami and will bounce back late this year and touting the promise of an "economic cooperation framework agreement" with China, Ma has tried to pump up approval ratings in the run-up to yesterday's one-person election for the KMT chairmanship.
In the meantime, the Taipei City government under KMT Mayor Hau Lung-pin has had to clean up a huge political mess left by his predecessor, who was Ma himself.
In the wake of the fiasco of the now defunct Maokung Cable Car last year, Hau's KMT administration suffered a tsunami of criticism following the July 4 launch of the problem plagued Neihu Mass Rapid Transit line and video news reports of riders being forced to fend for themselves on its high pillars.
Construction of the long-awaited extension of the Muzha Line was begun in 2003 under Ma's administration, who decided as Taipei City mayor to adopt a medium capacity elevated train system for the Neihu Line instead of the high-capacity underground system proposed by the majority of the Taipei City Council and to choose a different contractor from the Muzha Line.
Ma himself cited both the Maokong Cable Car System and the decision to adopt a medium-capacity system for the Neihu Line as his major achievements in his book "The Power of Silence" issued during the run-up to last March's presidential poll.
However, after the storm over the line's transparent inadequacies exploded, Ma denied any responsibility for the Neihu Line incident, and Hau dutifully declared that that the new MTR lines problems were unrelated to his predecessor.
But this time Ma's touted coating of "political Teflon" seems to have worn thin.
A poll of 837 Taipei citizens released by the opposition Democratic Progressive Party showed that nearly 56 percent disagreed with the decision to choose a medium capacity system and nearly 46 percent suspect that the problems in the system were due to "human error or corruption" while 39 percent felt they were due to "necessary adjustments."
However, 66.5 percent, including majorities across the political spectrum, rejected Hau's claim that "the Neihu MTR Line problems have nothing to do with President Ma," while only 22.5 percent agreed.
Not surprisingly, KMT Taipei City Council members moved to dump the blame on former DPP transportation minister Yeh Chu-lan, and by implication embattled former DPP president and ex-Taipei City mayor Chen Shui-bian, for allegedly rejecting the high-capacity option.
However, such claims overlooked the fact that the mass rapid transit system law places responsibility for system planning exclusively with the local government and makes the central government responsible only for funding part of the constructions costs.
In fact, Yeh had not objected to a high capacity system but had informed Ma's administration that the central government could not afford the ballooning of the Taipei City government's requested allocation from NT$30 billion to NT$130 billion.
The unfortunate reality for all Taiwan citizens is that Ma's image as a superior leader has been built on the incompetence of others and the fact that his relatively high approval rates were derived from his personal image instead of appreciation for his actual (in)competence and the lackluster performance of his administrative team.
Indecisiveness and lack of transparency in decision-making, inability to impose internal discipline, excessive uses of double-standards in political manoeuvring and outright opportunism constitute Ma's political weaknesses.
Every mirror has two faces.
Having called on the public to incorporate stricter criteria to judge other politicians, Ma should remind himself that Taiwan's increasingly politically independent and informed voters will apply these stricter criteria to monitor his own performance.


Updated : 2021-05-12 04:15 GMT+08:00