But two incidents during his first seven months in office are prompting unflattering comparisons with his Nationalist Party's dictatorial past and raising questions about Ma's ability to protect Taiwan's fragile democracy.
His apparent willingness to countenance his party's actions against opposition politicians is provoking stinging criticism of his administration, both at home and abroad.
It is "reminiscent of Richard Nixon's behavior, as in ordering IRS investigations of groups he didn't like," said June Teufel Dreyer, a China-Taiwan expert at the University of Miami, in an e-mail response to questions. The IRS is the American tax agency.
No one suggests Ma wants to turn the clock back on free elections and other democratic reforms that swept the island starting in the mid-1980s.
What worries some is the efforts by Nationalist lawmakers to pressure the Ministry of Justice into prosecuting former officials of the rival Democratic Progressive Party, including former President Chen Shui-bian.
Note that Enav alludes to the troubling prosecutions that seemingly concentrated on DPP officials. In the Chen case, not only did the KMT have the judge changed when they got a ruling they didn't like, but after flying in Jeff Koo from Japan to testify that he bribed Chen, they let him go without prosecuting him for bribery. Move along folks, there's no deal to see here!
In addition to the ominous developments out of the judiciary and prosecutors, Enav also describes the power of the KMT over the government, and the trial by media the DPP accused are undergoing:
Political scientist Wang Yeh-lih of Taipei's National Taiwan University said the most disturbing aspect of the Chen affair has been the readiness of Nationalist lawmakers to leak information from the investigation to allies in the media.
He also blamed prosecutors, saying they "consistently violated the principle of guarding the details of investigations during Chen's case."
Wang said Ma's apparent inability to stand up to lawmakers in his own party was also evident in his reluctance to prevent senior Nationalist officials from holding talks in Shanghai last month with China's Communist Party.
The negotiations, on two-way investment and cooperation in financial and service industries, circumvented the Straits Exchange Foundation, the Taiwanese body established to conduct talks with the mainland.
The leaders of the Nationalist delegation included honorary party chairman Lien Chan, whom critics chide as a supporter of reunification with the mainland, something most Taiwanese oppose. Ma has pledged not to discuss the issue while in office.
Wang said the meeting signaled the government's willingness to abdicate its authority to the ruling political party, much as the Nationalist Party dictated policy during martial law from 1947 to 1987.
It is a long article, and spends some time going over the details of the removal of the judge who released Chen from detention without bail. Good stuff, especially given the constraints on length the media operates under, and hope to see this topic expanded on and developed more.
It's important that AP is finally reporting on this. Though other media outlets have already been there before AP, AP is the single most important provider of international content for many newspapers in the US. Now that these issues have the imprimatur of such a large media organ, I hope that this will be followed by criticism from the international community of Taiwan watchers in both North America and Europe, as well as additional media reports.
Meanwhile the AP report highlights another function of the Chen case, in addition to the never-ending distraction it represents: Chen is tailor-made for the apparent rollback of rule of law, since anyone who objects can be discredited as a mere Chen supporter -- and the appearance of supporting Chen makes many who might speak out reluctant to do so.
UPDATE: Several us have been discussing how this statement....
No one suggests Ma wants to turn the clock back on free elections and other democratic reforms that swept the island starting in the mid-1980s.....which is totally untrue -- many public figures have suggested that -- is subtly but strongly contradicted by the rest of the article, which does in fact suggest that we are moving backwards into the past here.
UPDATE II: The pro-Blue, sex-n-scandal sheet ESWN, who thorough detests both Taiwan and its democracy, records the Presidential office's response. He titled it "AP hit piece on Ma." ROFL.