Why Ma Ying-jeou Should Not Be President

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Monday February 11, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Ma Ying-jeou is the quintessential politician, one who smiles and smiles and promises and promises but rarely delivers. Born into the privilege of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) one-party state, he was educated, and supported by that state throughout its White Terror dominance. He didn't question its rule and served its ends both as a student in the USA and back in Taiwan where he was awarded with appropriate positions. To gain insight, compare and contrast his response to the KMT's enticements and rewards for service to that of Peng Ming-min and you will see the difference in their characters.

Ma is not necessarily an evil man; he is not even incompetent as long as he has an able-bodied staff. Inept is a more appropriate word for a man who has style without substance and an image dependent upon hype. Ma is a Madison Avenue politician who needs a team of spin-doctors to promote that smile. He trades on image and photo opportunities but when that image is challenged or exposed, he reverts to being a weasel and occasionally shows the vindictiveness of those bred in a one-party state where any challenge to authority used to be harshly dealt with.

Performing well at charity and old ladies functions where smiles and platitudes are the order of the day, Ma is in his element. In interviews and on talk shows however, he only does well as long as the host does not ask hard, probing questions. Stephen Sackur of the BBC put him on the spot in 2006 and since then he usually insists on only answering questions prepared and seen beforehand.

Supported by the KMT media, Ma's hype machine and spin-doctors work overtime at maintaining his image yet there are times when even they are at a loss or make mistakes. Recall the dead body of the KMT loyalist that lay on a balcony of Taipei City Hall for six long months when Ma was mayor. How does one explain a dead body on one's watch and in one's own house and for so long? The international and even national media swept that under the rug, but imagine the furor that would have been raised if the body had been found at the Presidential Palace. Then there was the recent nude/forgotten towel affair with the farmer's daughter that happened during Ma's attempted "long stay" in the south. Ma's spin-doctors initially tried to create a deified-cult atmosphere, with Ma humbly saying, "See, I am only mortal." Unfortunately they misread the Taiwanese culture; it quickly turned sour and was dropped; nevermore to be mentioned.

Ma's recent green card interlocution and his stumbling answers again brought out his weasel side. This resulted in Ma appointing over twenty personnel to thereafter answer his questions so that he could not be held personally accountable for his answers. In other cases, the pattern of Ma's hype team has been to make sure that there is always someone there to take the fall for Ma if something bad happens. When Ma was caught with falsified receipts, staffer Yu Wen took the fall; and to take the heat off of Ma, Cheng An-kuo Director of the Mayor's Office also resigned.

As Chairman of the KMT, Ma always caved in to the old guard. He promised to divest the party of its "stolen assets" and to get the arms-procurement bills passed. He failed to deliver in both even though all he needed was to convince a small number of his party to join him to do so. When members of his own party speak off the record, they will admit they do not respect his leadership.

Innumerable examples of the wavering man who tries to please everyone can be found. It is touted that he studied law, but it is not mentioned that he was never able to pass the bar in the USA or Taiwan. Passing the bar was one thing the party could not buy for him. Not too long ago he claimed he would steadfastly defend the ROC flag, yet he forbade it to be flown in athletic contests in Taiwan because he did not want to insult visiting Chinese of the People's Republic of China (PRC). Ironically he allowed them to fly the PRC flag in Taiwan and so insulted the Taiwanese. Can such a double-dealing man be trusted?

On any given subject, Ma changes his answer depending on who he is talking to and when. Anyone who expects a straight answer and direct talk is left with a sickening, nauseating feeling especially after eight years of the marketing of Ma. The example of Kuo Yu-shin where Ma tried to claimed Kuo was KMT and not for Taiwan democratic independence and Kuo's granddaughter rebutted him is a typical example of Ma-speak. Imagine having to listen to such month after month from the mouth of Ma.

Anyone serious about Taiwan's identity will realize that in crucial times like these, Taiwan does not need window dressing or a weak, indecisive, image-courting windsock like Ma. This is all the more true when the KMT already has a disproportionate representation and control in the Legislative Yuan. The people of Taiwan need balance from the Presidential Office; they need someone who can work with the opposition but not cave-in. They need a person with a strong sense of Taiwanese identity. Frank Hsieh is that man.