Typhoon Morakot and the Many Names of Ma Ying-jeou

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Thursday August 13, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

With the onslaught of Typhoon Morakot, Ma Ying-jeou's leadership skills proved sorely lacking. So as the country of Taiwan struggles to recover, it is time for its citizens to give President Ma a second look. Not just a second look but a long hard second look. This is the man that promised them 6-3-3 and gave them 3-3-6. This is the man who lived on promises but never had a good track record for performance as Mayor of Taipei. This is the man who ironically is already talking like he should be re-elected in 2012. And finally, this is the man that wants the people to give him complete blind trust and not ask for details as he presses for a potentially dangerous ECFA agreement with China.

Based on his past poor performance, many in Taiwan had referred to Ma as Ma Ying-joke; others referred to him as the "Phony Pony." And there are some who even refer to him as "Ma Ying-jerk." But now with the totally inadequate response of Ma's government to the floods, he is gaining new names.

"Pass the Buck Ma"

After the destruction of the typhoon and after a week with the yet to be realized response of Ma's government, Ma has resorted to the blame game. First it was the Central Weather Bureau's fault for not giving a strong enough warning to prepare for the typhoon. Then it was the local magistrates fault for not solving the problem despite the fact that they had had no budget from the central government. They were of course from the opposition party. Then it was the people's fault for not getting out of the way of the floods. The people in Ma's words were not as "fully prepared" as they should have been. In the end, it was just about everyone's fault except Ma's. After all, he is only the president.

"My Heart's in China Ma"

Ma had led the charge in asking for donations and promoting help for China after the destruction from the Sichuan earthquakes. As he put it, "our Chinese brothers are suffering." Now when it called for help for the people in southern Taiwan, well they are not "Chinese brothers," they are Taiwanese; they should have known better.

"Fair Weather Ma"

When Ma was looking for votes for elections he made his touted "long stay" in the south to show he was responsive to the needs of the people. Now that the people were actually suffering and in need of the government's help, Ma made a brief appearance, got testy with the people asking for too much help and made a quick exit. The extent of his compassion was to say "You should have prepared yourselves better." (Isn't the government supposed to be the one responsible for national disasters and national relief?)

"Where's my Script Ma?"

In press conferences Ma always has a prepared script. In interviews, he insists on having the questions beforehand. In a normal situation with the people he always has some paternal phrases that he can throw out, but here when he has to confront the emotional needs of his people, Ma does not know what to say. The people are supposed to be in awe of his words; he should not have to answer to their needs. In confronting the suffering people of the stricken area, Ma showed extreme discomfort. They were asking him for solutions but he only knows how to give out pat phrases. They were asking for action but he only knows how to provide promises.

"Too Little Too Late Ma"

This name is still developing for it is a week after the typhoon and the government has yet to fully respond. They have blamed others; they have refused help, but they have not yet done that much. Ma does not know how to have empathy with the Taiwanese. He does not know how to take charge.

"Should I Consult China Ma?"

A big challenge for Ma has been how to handle the potential problem of China providing help. Ma has gone out of his way this past year to placate China and downplay any hints that China and Taiwan are separate countries. Here he did not want to appear to be asking China's permission but at the same time does not want to appear to be acting totally separate from China. When the USA and Japan offered assistance before Ma'government had responded, Ma turned it down. Help was needed but it was being offered to Taiwan as a separate country. Ma's final response was that he had everything under control. Ma would rather let the Taiwanese suffer than to create an awkward situation with China.

Phony Pony, Ma Ying-joke, Ma Ying-jerk, the names keep coming. Take your pick. About the only name that this typhoon has shown he should not have is that of President of Taiwan. Ironic isn't it. Any suggestions?