Flimflam and Fluff: Taiwan Voters and Their Syndromes

  Previous  |  Next  

Tuesday July 08, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The days of the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) control of indoctrination, propaganda and media are long gone (if you can consider twenty years as long gone), but that does not mean that the KMT does not keep influencing Taiwan voters. Witness Taiwan's last presidential election where many sheep-like voters were led to believe that Taiwan's main problem was its economy and that Chen Shui-bian was solely responsible for holding it back. Some may call this response a Stockholm syndrome result; hostages take on the beliefs and identity of their captors and Taiwanese have been hostage for fifty years under the KMT's one-party state rule and indoctrination. For me, I prefer to look on it as the failure of voters to do their homework.

At election time, the constant refrain and mantra in Taiwan was, "Our economy is so bad, we need a change." In reality, Taiwan's economy was much better than the rest of the world (over 5 percent growth), and this is where Taiwan voters first stopped doing their homework. So, it was easy for them to be set up by the KMT's ace flimflam man Ma Ying-jeou who convinced them to vote for him. Ma promised that once elected, he would lead Taiwan to catch up with or come closer to the inflated numbers of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Ma was elected, and the corner supposedly had been turned. Taiwan was to be well on its way to the Promised Land. Unfortunately the TAIEX and economy are immune to flimflam and the economy nosedived. What followed? Some of course began to see the light, but others still listened to the flimflam man. The argument now changed. Before the election, even though the world economy was bad and Taiwan's economy was fair it was not a global problem; it was Chen's fault. After the election when Taiwan suddenly discovered that the world economy had been bad all along and when Taiwan's economy became worse, this was not Ma's fault, it was a global problem. Logic? No, but that also is not a strong point of many of Taiwan voters.

Of course there were some who sought to defend their choice of voting for the flimflam man; they countered that the real election issue was the corruption in Chen's family. Ah yes, corruption that too seemed to be a problem localized only in the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Ma after all had been acquitted after his indictment for corruption. But wait; let's go back to logic again. After appeals, Ma's secretary was thrown into jail for misuse of state funds but it was Ma's bank account that had increased by over a half a million US$ dollars. Wouldn't one think that the Harvard educated lawyer Ma would ask where that extra half a million US$ in his account came from? Is that not logical? Question further, why would a man (Ma's secretary) go out of his way to cheat the people out of a half a million US$ dollars and put it in someone else's (Ma's) bank account? Is that logical? Is it devotion? Or is it simply taking the fall? But still for Ma's staunch supporters, the flimflam man was pure as the driven snow.

Return to Taiwan's tanking economy. The ball remains in Ma's court so what is he doing? Desperate times call for desperate measures, right? However, it is not Taiwan's economy that is really most desperate right now. What is desperate is Ma Ying-jeou's reputation. His 633 campaign promise for all practical purposes had been jettisoned barely a month after election. Politicians of course are generally not expected to be held totally accountable for all that they promise before elections but to bail out after one month is a bit too soon. This has left Ma with only one card left in his hand; he must stake everything on direct links and tourists from the People's Republic of China (PRC) and do it fast. And so with little forethought and hardly a glance at the big picture, Ma has plunged ahead ignoring the risks to the people, nation and economy.

The first group of tourists has come with not too much trouble, but there is one hitch; the PRC demanded that they do the screening for who enters Taiwan and not Taiwan and they only let in 1000 a day instead of 3000. Even the number of 3000 had been questioned by some as to whether it would help the economy, but 1000? It will take a lot of flimflam to make that plausible.

In the meantime, what risks are involved? Health is a big one. The first wave of China tourists have been the extremely wealthy and healthy but has anyone done their homework on what can happen when the crme de la crme of China have come and gone and the average Chinese tourist comes? Does anyone recall when Hong Kong opened up its Disneyland for the average China tourists? Not a pretty picture, but homework is a bit too hard, let's trust the flimflam man.

What other things have been sacrificed with all this focus on getting some people from China here? First, Taiwan's president who before the election said he would staunchly defend Taiwan's sovereignty now says he does not mind being called Mr. Ma instead of President Ma with the Chinese. That doesn't have much of a sovereign ring to it, does it? Could tourism be used as a cover to bring in spies and military personnel from China? Don't even ask.

And the other matters of state? They seem to be sliding. When Chen Shui-bian was elected, his cabinet members were sometimes referred to as the "boy scouts" because of their lack of previous experience. On paper, Ma's team had better credentials but in the first month or so, their performance has been more like cub scouts than boy scouts. Ma's main focus seems to be only on not offending China. The Diaoyutais Islands fiasco led to posturing about threatening war with Japan a long time ally and one of the best providers of tourism to Taiwan. That certainly won't help the economy. The Suao freeway and the environment? The cabinet missed the mark on that one too. Ma's nominees to the Control Yuan and other positions? Shot down by his own party, who is in charge here?

Then there was the cry that Taiwan's airports were not up to snuff for the China tourists and the infrastructure has been let to stagnate. Sungshan Airport in particular was singled out as not being ready. Did anyone do their homework on who the mayors of Taipei have been for the past ten years? Who was in charge and let this slip? Flimflammed again.

Taiwan is not done; in addition to flimflam the voters are being set up for the fluff that will follow. Now that we have a new administration we are going to get pandas. It's homework time again. Pandas may be cute but they are fluff; not only are they fluff but they are expensive fluff. They come with an expensive rental price tag that no one talks about. China rents them out at millions of dollars a year, plus they need an expensive care and environment. Whose tax dollars will be put into that economy?

The argument will come and had been used by several zoos around the world, that the zoo attendance will shoot up and people will spend money on T-shirts, stuffed pandas made in China etc. Yes it is true attendance usually goes up for the first year or two. But then what? Continue with your homework and see how many zoos buckle under the long term costs. And the rental fee? Well China might waive that if Taiwan admits it is a province of China. Yet in preparation, Hau Lung-bin, Taipei's KMT mayor, has already made a tax-payer trip to Shanghai to work out an exchange between Taiwan's orangutans and gibbons and China's golden monkeys. Hopefully their monkeys will spend more dollars here than our gibbons will do in China.

Flimflam and fluff, you get what you vote for. If Taiwan loses its sovereignty, health and dignity in the process, well at least Ma did keep one campaign promise.