A Cause for Concern, Does Ma Ying-jeou Know What Time It Is?

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Wednesday December 09, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

The elections of December 5th are past and one marked result is the fact that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has regained power in its former stronghold, Yilan County. Ma Ying-jeou as both President of the country and Chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) had zealously and extensively campaigned there to prevent this, putting both his own reputation and the party's on the line. Despite this, the people voted in the DPP candidate. Whether this can be seen as an indication that the people of Taiwan are developing a growing mistrust of their president whom many are beginning to call the phony pony, is one matter. But there is another matter, that of Ma breaking the law in his campaigning.

Article 53 of the Election and Recall Act forbids any discussion, mention or quoting of public opinion polls in the 10 days that precede an election by anyone in an official capacity. Ma broke that law when he quoted an opinion poll within those ten days. Using that poll, he said that the political race in Yilan was tight and that the KMT members should work all the harder to win. So was Ma trying to speak to a greater audience than the KMT?

Everyone knows that Ma's public relations team and even foreign media like to tout Ma as the Harvard educated lawyer - though those in the know, are well aware that he has never passed any bar exam whether in the United States or Taiwan. Nevertheless Ma did study law at Harvard and did graduate from there, so one could presume that as a Harvard graduate and as President of Taiwan, he would know the law about not quoting polls ten days before an election, and one could also presume that Ma does know how to calculate what constitutes ten days before December 5th.

The reason for the law of course is that no one should use nebulous polls to try to influence the results of an election. This law applies to everyone, but more especially to those who might try to use their position of power and influence to sway an election in their party's favor.

In defense, the KMT stated that Ma did not realize it was less than ten days before the election. Yes, ten is a hard number to calculate, especially if one is counting backwards from December 5th, but one would hope that someone who went to Harvard could master the situation. Further, the KMT went on to say that Ma was speaking privately and not publicly and should be excused. But private or public, does that apply? Apropos to judging how public something is, is this question. How can it be anything but public when the person speaking is the President of the country and it is during an election when he is sure to have media in his entourage who will quote him. This is what happened.

In an unusual admission of guilt, Ma has stated that it was his personal negligence and that he would pay the fine of NT$500,000. This is all well and good, but for the people of Taiwan, some greater and deeper issues remain beyond the fine. Is it simply a matter of does Ma Ying-jeou really know what time it is? Or does Taiwan have a president who would step out of bounds to try to influence a potentially embarrassing election result when he knows or should know the law? In either case, these can be cause for worry particularly with other matters like ECFA, sovereignty and beyond are on the table in the future.