Over the nearly two years since Ma Ying-jeou was sworn in as Taiwan's president, his popularity has seesawed from a high of 58 percent when he was elected to a low of around 20 percent when his government was perceived as arrogant and incompetent in the wake of Typhoon Morakot, then recovered strongly on the government's performance after the global financial crisis. Now it has plummeted again, with just 23.8 percent of the electorate approving of his performance.I got curious to see what "strong recovery" occurred after the government's poor performance on Morakot due to the response to the financial crisis (which was as lame as the response to Morakot, it just unfolded over a longer period of time), so I looked up the Global Views poll, which helpfully has the numbers on Ma since June of 2008. Here's their track:
The dark blue line at the top is the dissatisfaction/disapproval rate, the aqua line at the bottom is the satisfaction/approval rate. Once they elected Ma, the public seemed to wake up rapidly and his approval rates, as the global views poll notes, peaked at around 40 just prior to Morakot in August of 2009. Since then Ma has been unable to break 30. I wonder what poll Asia Sentinel was looking at, because there was no recovery after Morakot in this one.
The Asia Sentinel piece does a much better job than Shelly Rigger's latest piece at identifying the root of the current problem: ECFA.
Ma's popularity now is at risk over the ECFA – the Economic Cooperation and Framework Agreement with China, a preferential trade agreement being discussed in Taipei and one that voters widely believe will sacrifice the island's autonomy to Beijing.Voters also widely believe it will trash the economy. The AS report doesn't dig deeply enough...
His American education and approach to governing appeared to present a clean break from the country's previous deeply scandal-tainted politics, especially those of his own predecessors in the Kuomintang.Folks, nobody disputed that Ma had downloaded government funds into his own accounts for personal use. Anyone remember the court's verdict? An excerpt:
According to the indictment, Ma collected NT$4,129,073 from the special funds between December 1998 and July 2006, but the judges upheld Ma's innocence as they said that during his two-terms as Taipei mayor between 1999 and 2006 he had also donated NT$63,078,949 to charity, which is over five times the amount of money from the special fund.At least one other individual had been convicted and imprisoned for doing what Ma did. But you can be sure that this reality will never see the light of day in the international media. Another fun instance:
And, when in 2008 the world financial crisis hit, Ma Ying-jeou's cabinet reacted quickly and positively. The government issued consumer shopping vouchers, with each eligible Taiwanese receiving NT$3,600 (US$113) to attempt to revive the domestic economy. This went well with the public.The voucher program (my post) went well with the public? My perception was that the public found it an amusing but pathetic substitute for real economic action, as Jon Adams basically reported. But others may remember differently.
Few in Taiwan would argue that the Ma cabinet reacted quickly and positively to the economic crisis; quite the opposite. That is one reason for Ma's long-term popularity drop-off. As with the Rigger piece, the fact that Ma is widely perceived to be incompetent, and the reasons for it -- with the exception of Morakot -- never truly surfaces in the AS piece.
There's an interesting thesis on the beef issue. AS argues that Ma sacrificed his popularity to show China a thing or two:
Since Ma's government must have been aware of what happened in Korea, the decision to risk his standing with the Taiwanese public could have been a political maneuver: in times of ongoing ECFA negotiations the demonstrations gave Beijing the signal that the Taiwanese are still likely to hit the streets if there are developments they don't approve of. Beijing has good reason to fear TV-footage of demonstrations going on in ‘Greater China,' regardless whether they happen on the mainland, in Hong Kong or in Taipei. Ma Ying-jeou's approval ratings dropped, yet through this sacrifice he kept an overly pushy China at bay.I think this argument that Ma used the beef demonstrations to send a signal to China fails for two reasons. First, the decision on beef appears to have been former NSC head Su Chi's, for which his head rolled. Second, massive and violent demonstrations occurred during the first two visits of Chinese negotiators to Taiwan. It is hard to imagine how China could be affected by demonstrations aimed at Washington and Taipei, when it had already been the target of much larger and more violent demonstrations.
The last paragraph contains words worth remembering:
Taiwan's next presidential elections are to be held in 2012. That's a long way ahead. Since Taiwan is a vibrant democracy, things can change overnight, and it's far from certain that Ma's approval ratings won't bounce back. Given that the stakes are so high, it's in the interest of both the Taiwanese business community and China that they go up again. To make things go smoothly for Ma, the Chinese government could easily resort to economic aid in a form as subtle as in 2009, when it awarded orders to Taiwanese companies to supply a large scale program that brought cheap household electronics to China's provinces. Money makes the world go around and the Chinese government, which least wants to see a failing Ma, holds US$2.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.2012 is a long way off, and recovery is possible -- indeed, I suspect many of those complaining about him now will fall into line and vote Ma when the election comes around. The AS piece assumes the default posture that ECFA will be good for Taiwan and its businesses.... "it's in the interest of both the Taiwanese business community and China that they go up again" ... although that is a problematic assumption, especially on the Taiwanese side. Will China actually come and spend the big bucks for Ma to keep him in office for another four years? 2012 will definitely be an interesting election campaign....
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