The Final Dangerous Moments of Ma Ying-jeou
Sunday April 26, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.
A standing joke in Taiwan is the following: a Taiwanese and a Chinese are arguing about which of their two countries is the better. The Taiwanese finally trumps the other by stating, "Well at least we have an internationally certified bumbler as President" to which the other cannot find a response.
As Taiwan enters into the last year of its bumbling President Ma Ying-jeou, there is worried speculation and even silent horror over what the prospects of the last year of this lame duck, caretaker will be.
Certainly many hope that he will simply go gentle into the supposed good night that follows the leaving of a prominent position. Others worry over the potential danger that he can cause if he attempts to go out with an irreconcilable bang and threaten the nation's security. Their hope is that minimally, he will have the decency to leave with only a whimper. And of course there are still others who hope that he goes out handcuffed and in chains, something that they feel he definitely deserves. Such is the growing range of diverse feelings on Taiwan as Ma enters his last year, but there is even more.
Those that had recognized Ma's incompetence long before it had become a fashionable by-word are wondering why it took the rest of Taiwan and the world so long to catch up. For them Ma's progress up the Peter Principle ladder had long been as obvious. In their minds, the future debate would be on what was the "tipping point" in Ma's demise that sanctioned the now open and frequenst criticism of this man who in 2008 had begun his first term as president with select but glowing praise and a landside victory. For this writer, the tipping point was probably the article "Ma the Bumbler" in the November 17, 2012 Economist. It was that headline, which finally gave international sanction to Ma being open game. And once that floodgate was opened, no Ma-speak or King Pu-tsung spin could stem the tide.
Today, that tide increases in the 180-degree change. Remember Ma's once famous pride in being "the Teflon man," and artful dodger? That no longer applies. His old excuses? They now fail. As Mayor of Taipei when nearly a half million US$ had mysteriously appeared in his bank account, Ma was able to escape by claiming ignorance. His secretary had allegedly put the money there without his knowledge; most seemed to accept this.
Fast forward to the developing MeHAS City project scandal. The innocence refrain has fallen flat with a newly available transparency. Ma, a known micromanager, has again tried to claim ignorance. His chop had been used to approve all, but some unnamed person had "secretly" used his chop without filling him in on the details. Other documents, however, pointed to both an opposite reality and Ma's micromanagement involvement. And Ma, far from being a Lee Kuan Yeu could not use the threats of lawsuits against reporters like Clara Chou to silence them. Unafraid of the bumbler, she has stood her ground.
Other evidence of Ma's slipping image? Go back to the September Strife of 2013, when the Teflon Man attempted to claim the high road over Legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng. Wang, an accepted wheeler-dealer, is not your typical high road person. Liked on both sides of the aisle he is also not a man for street fights, but here he saw it was time to stand. It was a strange and unusual battle for the high road between two unlikely candidates, and Wang won.
Yes, confidence in the bumbler has clearly been lost; in last year's November 29 elections, few Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) candidates wanted Ma to campaign for them. He was already a known albatross. And now that he is no longer chairman of the KMT, it will either be an extremely rare or a suicidal KMT candidate who will want Ma's support in 2016.
This brings up the current issue of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). In applications for this bank, there are burdensome conditions set on any latecomers in joining; this is why many allies of the United States have not hesitated to be founding members of what is basically China's bank. They want the advantages provided founding members. But there are also conditions that Beijing has set precisely for Taiwan. It must have a "proper name." And here as the Ma government tried to slip in at the last minute, Ma's penchant for speaking out of both sides of his mouth was further exposed.
Ma remains a constant defender of the burden of history that Taiwan bears in being called the Republic of China (ROC), a name brought to the island by post WWII KMT diaspora on the run. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Ma still praises the ROC's outdated 1947 Constitution and territorial implications to Taiwan citizens, but to the outside world and especially China he whispers Chinese Taipei.
Given all the above, Taiwanese can ask if there is anything meaningful that Ma can do to have a decent last year as president? Assume that the public will absolve him of the fool hardy 6-3-3 promises made by Boy Scout advisers in 2008. He could focus on needed matters like Constitutional reform, the promised resolution of the stolen state assets, and 2-28 transparency. These could not be accomplished in a year but a decent start could be made on them.
What will Ma's last year be like? Few would remember when early in Ma's first term as Mayor of Taipei, a loyal female KMT follower committed suicide at City Hall. It was a strange choice of location for a loyal KMT subject with Ma as Taipei mayor. A book was written trying to claim this person as a hero and martyr but that spin was quickly squelched. The stark reality however was revealed more in what happened afterwards and why it could be feared as a harbinger of today. For six months, the body lay undiscovered and decomposing on a City Hall roof level where employees might take a smoke break. When finally found, Ma knew enough to let this be swept under the rug. There was little spin that could rectify the suicide and that reflects the fear here that a year will tell.
** (A footnote can now be added that in the following 2016 elections Ma's party, the KMT, lost big in the elections. They not only lost the presidency but also control of the Legislative Yuan.)