What a difference a flood makes. From able to flounder faster than you can say "flood relief." The foreign media is actually reporting negative things about President Ma, darling of the US Establishment. It is only about 18 months behind our local media.
The NYTimes had two pieces on the typhoon and President this week. The first one focused directly on public anger and consists almost entirely of negative commentary from the local public on Ma. Stunning.
The second piece contains some more positive comments -- "Harvard educated" is in there, safeguarding Ma's class status. An excerpt:
The early criticism, expressed by anguished family members and broadcast on national television, has emboldened members of Taiwan’s vocal political opposition, who have dispensed with any reluctance to exploit the challenges facing Mr. Ma.A key point not made here: Sisy Chen, the TV commentator, is a KMT supporter; she switched sides almost a decade ago. The juxtaposition of her comments after the paragraph about the opposition giving up all restraint in going after Ma makes it appear she belongs to the Greens. She does not.
Sisy Wen-hsien Chen, a politician who is also a television commentator, lobbed the ultimate insult by suggesting that Mr. Ma’s post-disaster performance had paled in comparison with that of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of Taiwan’s rival, China, during the Sichuan earthquake last year.
Harvard-educated, debonair and prone to wonkish utterances, Mr. Ma is not exactly known as a great communicator. His wooden qualities have been thrown into stark relief in recent days as he has tried to console storm victims.
Note also that the explanation for the problems offered by the NYT is that Ma is a "poor communicator" (who somehow manages to be "debonair" even though he is "wooden" UPDATE: "debonair" has now been removed from this article). Anyone looking at the mess of the Makong Gondola, the Neihu Subway line mess, the lack of significant progress in Taipei during eight years of Ma's tenure, the threats to the bureaucracy when he was running for the presidency, the lawsuit against the prosecutor in his corruption case, the undisputed fact that he had downloaded government funds into his own accounts in ways widely considered illegal until he did them, the accusations that Taiwanese are brainwashed by the Japanese, his acting like an emperor in the incident at the Confucius Temple last year, and many other things, might well posit some other reason for his distance from his people.
This paragraph of the NYTimes piece, though, is wonderful:
On Thursday, the Taiwanese cabinet reversed an earlier decision and said it would accept foreign aid, including the heavy-lift helicopters needed to bring bulldozers deep into the mountains. Compounding critics’ cynicism, the Foreign Ministry asserted that the decision to turn down foreign help was actually a typographical error in documents it had sent abroad.Gotta love the Administration. A "typo." In fact, as I heard more than 32 countries had offered aid to Taiwan. The change of heart was probably due to the fact that China had offered aid and the government had responded positively, as reported by Taiwan News on Thursday. Couldn't turn down the US but accept China. That would be a little too obvious.
WSJ also chimed in with an article on public anger at the Ma Administration. It notes at the end:
Separately, Taiwan's Chunghwa Telecom Co. said three of its undersea cables were damaged by undersea landslides caused by the typhoon, disrupting connections throughout Asia. It estimated companies would have 50% of their voice service and 60% of their Internet service restored by the end of Wednesday.Couple of observations. First, recall that as soon as Ma entered office, the stock market tanked, and a couple of months later, the economic crisis hit. And what has been the major criticism of the Ma Administration throughout the long economic crisis? He hasn't done anything and the government is floundering. This isn't a new behavior; the major difference is that this crisis isn't unfolding over six months, but over six days, so the floundering and indifference is rather more noticeable. But we are not witnessing something new here, folks.
Also, did anyone catch the hidden ethnic card the KMT played in its criticism of the Pingtung County government, saying it hadn't warned Chiadong and Linbian in Pingtung before the typhoon hit? As the Taipei Times reported, first the Administration directed anger at Pingtung but oh-so-coyly declined to name the neglected townships, then the pro-KMT China Times reported that they were Chiadong and Linbian. Those areas are both famous for their Hakka populations -- Chiadong has the last extant five-hall Hakka house in Taiwan. In other words, the hidden ethnic subtext of that little playlet was: Look, Hakkas, the DPP (Hoklo) government of Pingtung has screwed you again -- vote KMT to avoid that!
Many comparisons to Bush after Katrina wiped out New Orleans. It remains to be seen whether Ma's party will take a hit in the polls after this mess, though.
UPDATE: AP has an excellent article on the beating Ma is taking from within his own party and from the pro-KMT media. Ma's comments to a UK news outlet in which he appeared to say that it was the victims own fault were mentioned:
UPDATE 2: Meanwhile AFP -- shock, shock -- plays down the idea that Ma is being criticized for poor leadership, restricting its remarks to:
"They were not fully prepared. If they were, they should have been evacuated much earlier," Ma told an ITN reporter. "They didn't realize how serious the disaster was."
Taiwan's normally pro-Ma China Times newspaper lambasted the president for the remarks, saying they were badly out of place.
"It is not presidential to tell international media that the blame falls on people who would not evacuate in order to safeguard their own homes," the newspaper said.
Ma's administration has been criticised for being too slow to recognise the magnitude of the crisis in which mudslides cut off hundreds of villages, leaving them only accessible by air.Note that Ma himself is not portrayed as an incompetent, as the other pieces zoom in on his behavior in fine detail. AFP leaves out any of the details, while referring to criticism of the "Ma administration."
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