Why Taiwan’s people reject President Ma’s leadership

Amid public anger over a string of President Ma Ying-jeou's unpopular decisions, including the controversial US beef imports, and fuel and electricity price hikes, his approval rating has sunk below 20 percent, and he has encountered a call from within the ruling Chinese Nationallist Party (KMT) to step down from the post of Party Chairman. Reportedly, a member of KMT Central Standing Committee from Chiayi suggested to Chairman Ma during the weekly meeting of the party’s topmost policy council in early May that Ma should focus on his duties as president of the nation. Was that the first shot fired at Ma's leadership? Chuang Po-chung, Director of the KMT Communication and Cultural Committee was quick to come to Ma's defense. He flatly dismissed of an "anti-Ma" revolt and asserted that the party's support for Ma is unanimous. The Chiayi committee member's suggestion to Ma, if the KMT spokesman can be trusted, is actually a friendly gesture, as he cared very much about Chairman Ma's heavy work load and health. Would Ma be willing to relinquish the KMT Chairmanship so he can focus on his government responsibilities? Hardly. In spite of his public pledge in 2007 while campaigning for president that he would never take the KMT Chairmanship if he wins the presidency, because as he said, "the president should be devoted full time to government affairs," the pledge was only for public consumption as Ma has had a well-established record of disregarding his promise when a need arises. Thus, not long after Ma assumed the office of presidency in May 2008, he decided to also take over the KMT leadership post, and he rudely engineered the ouster of Wu Poh-hsiung in May 2009, who was the party chairman since April 2007. Two months later, the KMT members went to polls to vote for their new chairman, with Ma the only candidate on the ballot. Ma was simply following the KMT's time-honored Leninist tradition of interlocking Party-state leadership established by Chiang Kai-shek and Chiang Ching-kuo, but a deceitful and hypocritical politician like Ma went so far to claim that his decision to concurrently occupy the party post was "prompted by his sense of responsibility for the nation's competitiveness and government performance." Why Ma Needs and Wants More Power When Ma assumed the office of presidency, he was at the height of his political fame and popularity, as he won the presidential elections in March with a landslide 58 percent victory, and the KMT controlled three-fourths of the seats in the parliament--Legislative Yuan (LY). However, Ma's leadership performance left much to be desired, as he failed to get things done. Among the notable examples was the LY's refusal to confirm Ma's appointees to the Contral Yuan (the government watchdog) and the Examination Yuan (top civil service commission). Furthermore, President Ma was only able to muster enough votes in the LY to pass half of the 50 bills on the priority list submitted by the Executive Yuan (cabinet) during the first legislative session. Although Ma singled out 9 "must-pass" bills, only 4 were enacted. Observers pointed out the lack of coordination between the ruling KMT, the cabinet, and the "disobedience" of the LY, and especially Ma's poor leadership. On the other hand, President Ma blamed Chairman Wu Poh-hsiung on the failure of the KMT lawmakers to toe the President's line, and used this as an excuse to seize party chairmanship from Wu. Ma's apparent power grab has also been attributed to his attempt to subdue or remove potential rivals inside the KMT. One obvious target was LY Speaker Wang Jin-pyng, who commands considerable influence and was able to checkmate Ma from time to time. As KMT Chairman, Ma would be empowered to nominate next LY speaker and deputy speaker, and appoint dozens of KMT's LY members-at-large, and in a key position to influence the nomination of candidates for elections to the LY and other elected posts. Ma seems to believe that when he is able to keep his rivals in line as well as to patronize and coopt his supporters, he would be fully in power and exercise total control. Ma's Falling Popularity and Public Opposition Last January, a very unpopular Ma was re-elected for another 4-year term, thanks to the unceremonious intervention in Taiwan's democratic process by the two major world powers, the United States and China. Despite fewer popular votes and a smaller margin of victory than in the 2008 elections, Ma proudly claimed that he had won the popular mandate to implement a grandiose program for a golden decade--a policy platform he announced during the presidential campaign. Ma, who begins his second term in office on May 20, is faced with a record-low support in opinion polls and growing criticism from within the KMT, including its lawmakers, over a series of controversial policies. A survey made public on May 10 by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research showed 57.4 percent of respondents regarding the President not trustworthy and 67.5 percent disapproving of his performance. Ma has been widely criticized for his arrogance of power, out of touch with the common people, and has no knowledge of what they need and want. His sources of information and policy advice are extremely limited, as he only trusts his cohorts, and does not even consult or listen to his Vice-President Vincent Siew, an experienced and highly respected economic expert. Taiwan is a democracy, but Ma tries to run the nation like a dictator. He rarely communicates with the KMT lawmakers and does not engage in consensus-building. It seems certain that Ma will face both a credibility crisis and a leadership crisis in the next 4 years. Dr. Parris H. Chang is Chair Professor of General Education at Toko University and CEO of the Instiute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies. He was a lawmaker in the Legislative Yuan during 1993-2004.