Dismal polls, wishful thinking

The end of President Ma Ying-jeou's first month in office was unceremoniously marked by four opinion surveys by three "pan-blue" media and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party that showed widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of the new head-of-state and his restored Kuomintang government.
Ironically, the most polite survey was produced by the DPP, which did not directly report a "satisfaction" rating but allowed respondents to score Ma's performance with the result of an average failing score of 59 points.
The most discourteous results were, equally ironically, offered by the staunchly pro-KMT TVBS network, whose polling group showed that only 41 percent of the 1,076 responding Taiwan adults were pleased with Ma's achievements and 37 percent were dissatisfied, while 43 percent expressed dismay over the performance of KMT Premier Liu Chao-shiuan with only 36 percent satisfied.
Polls conducted by Taiwan's two major pro-KMT vernacular daily newspapers showed remarkably similar results, with the right-wing United Daily News, which reported 66 percent satisfaction with Ma on his May 20 inaugural, reporting 50 percent satisfaction among the 907 Taiwan adults surveyed and 30 percent dissatisfaction with Ma, while the China Times also reported 50 percent satisfied voters compared to 29 percent disgruntled citizens.
In addition, all of the polls reported overall dissatisfaction with the performance of the new KMT government in terms of "fighting for the economy," handling petroleum product prices and inflation and dealing with the flap over a collision with a law-breaking Taiwan recreational fishing boat and a Japanese coast guard patrol vessel in the disputed Tiaoyutai islets.
TVBS provided an embarrassing base of comparison by relating that the much maligned former president Chen Shui-bian of the DPP tallied a 77 percent satisfaction rating at the end of his first month after being inaugurated May 20, 2000 with just 7 percent displeased.
In a pointed allusion to Ma's campaign declaration that the "professional and competent" KMT was "ready" to take over governorship from the "incompetent" DPP and would "immediately" make things better, the TVBS poll found that 66 percent of respondents said that Ma and the KMT "had not been ready," compared with 21 percent who believed Ma.
A total of 51 percent of TVBS respondents also panned Ma's crisis management capabilities, with 36 percent approving of the way in which the KMT president dealt with crises and 42 percent said his performance was worse than they had expected at election day March 22, with 41 percent saying that he was performing as expected and 11 percent saying he did better than they expected.
Moreover, all of the "pan-blue" media showed that majorities approved of Ma's cross-strait policy toward China.
However, these favorable ratings may be premature since our citizens have only seen media hype and have yet to realize few benefits our economy will receive from PRC tourism and how expensive the price tag will be in terms of Taiwan's public order, social harmony, quality of life and international status.
Nevertheless, TVBS gave Ma some solace by finding that 54 percent believed the KMT was leading Taiwan in the "right direction" compared with 17 percent who disagreed, while the UDN found that 58 percent believed the KMT government would improve with only six percent expecting that Ma's administration would get worse and 18 percent expecting about the same for the future.
Reprogramming needed
Even setting the comparison with the former DPP president aside, the drop in approval ratings of at least 16 percentage points during his first month (coincidently parallel to the 15 percent shrinkage in the Taiwan Securities Index from 9,295.44 on May 19 to 7,902.44 points on June 20) should be cause for concern in the KMT camp and among all Taiwan citizens.
It will be difficult for Ma to outperform fellow conservative South Korean President "Bulldozer" Lee Myung-bak, whose approval ratings have dived from 75 percent just before he took office February 25 to 17 percent on June 4, according to the Korean Broadcasting System.
Nevertheless, the evident lack of mental preparation of Ma and his KMT administration, in striking contrast to their arrogant "we are ready" claim and their skill in "crisis creation" instead of "crisis management," as shown in the cases of petroleum prices and the Tiaoyutai flap, does not augur well for the future.
The fact of the matter is that the KMT leaders continue to manifest an authoritarian mentality and tunnel vision in their decision - making and an apparent inability to comprehend the dramatic changes in Taiwan politics, society, culture and economics and the transformation of the global financial and economic environment which have rendered obsolete their ideological assumptions and instinctive response to crises, ingrained during decades of service as technocrats or bureaucrats in the former totally dominant KMT party-state.
Unless the KMT leaders are able to update their positivistic mental programming to match the needs of a pluralistic modern democratic state in a globalizing world, the optimism in the future performance of the Ma government will be exposed as an exercise in wishful thinking.