Ma Ying-jeou Wins Taiwan Presidency: Let the Flip-flops Begin

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Wednesday March 26, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

On Saturday, March 22nd, 2008, Ma Ying-jeou of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) won Taiwan's presidency with a clear majority of over two million votes. Immediately afterwards local and international pundits began casting about for reasons to explain and/or justify his convincing win and why people voted as they did. These efforts at best remain highly speculative. As a young democracy, one that only recently possessed a free press after its martial law and white terror days, Taiwan lacks bias-free mechanisms of political analysis and even reliable exit polls. It will be sometime before a correct analysis of the public's mind can be done, so where do I stand? In my past writings, I have classified Ma as a weak, window dressing politician, lacking substance and dependent more on media hype and showmanship than fact. That opinion has not changed.

Rather than jumping on any post election bandwagon. I have held off comment to allow Ma the chance to make a few revelatory remarks. True to form, he did not disappoint me. Once again he demonstrated his trademark flip-flop style, a style where his opinion changes with the wind and can only be determined by asking, "When was the last time he spoke, and who was the last audience he spoke to?"

A bare two days before the election, Ma went on record as saying that he would definitely consider a boycott of the Olympics by Taiwan because of the persecution in Tibet. Here was the tough guy image, ready to face down China and call for human rights. Two days after the election, Ma was congratulating the Taiwan baseball team as they prepared to get ready for the Olympics. Flip-flop? Judge for yourself.

In similar fashion, the Pan-blue media has begun to push the panda hype. Ma has stated that the only thing holding Taiwan back on acquiring pandas was whether to send them to Taipei or Kaohsiung. Ma's words and wishes could be interpreted as a greater leaning towards and a playing up to China. I prefer to look on them as typical Ma window-dressing, designed to placate, please and distract a shallow public but not touching on the real issues facing Taiwan. Lost in all the panda-hugging euphoria is the campaign issue of Taiwan's allegedly poor economy. In close analysis of course, Taiwan's economy, unemployment rate and growth possess a favorable advantage that most countries would kill for. Pandas? They are a distraction that will provide short term exhilaration and long term costs. Anyone remember the hype over the benefits of penguins and koalas coming to the Taipei zoo?

Those who do research on zoos with pandas will find that pandas are more of a liability than a benefit to a zoo. True, at first, there will initially be higher attendance and a lot of sales of stuffed pandas, panda t-shirts etc. but after that wears off, the true costs some out. China always has exorbitant "rental fees" for pandas and despite all the photos of cute cuddly pandas, additional costs of maintaining a suitable living environment and food for them will go through the roof.

Media hype has never cut it with me. Pictures of Ma in his jogging shorts signing autographs or mention of Ma's daughters as "little princesses" leave me searching for a barf bag. Facts, actions, and results count. In Ma's two terms as Mayor of Taipei despite all the photos in the papers and the media hype, no concrete, stellar achievements stand out. So now, as Ma faces the presidency, his first crucial test worthy of examination will be who he appoints to his cabinet and numerous other political offices.

Will Ma appoint true democratic-minded reformers from the younger ranks of the KMT or will he cave in to the old guard? Will the wolves of the past be let back in? Few reporters have ever asked or written about who created Taiwan's corruption prone governmental systems. Most of Taiwan's politicians (including Ma) have enjoyed the benefits from these and are guilty of keeping their fingers in the honey pot. The image of James Soong (a man who has never won an election since the mid 1990s) standing on election platforms was not encouraging. Some commentators have indicated that recent campaign victory platform pictures resemble a bunch of vultures from the past ready to feed on the dead carcass of Taiwan's democracy. That may be going a bit too far, and as regards Ma, I don't mind being proven wrong, but it will take more than media hype and window dressing to do so.