Ma's "6-3-3" promise - of turning Taiwan's economic contraction into an annual growth of 6 per cent, lowering the unemployment rate to 3 per cent from 5 per cent and increasing per capita income to US$30,000 from US$17,000 - brought him a landslide victory.[MT: Note that the regurgitation of KMT economic lies: the economy grew at 4.6, 5.7, and 6.0% during the Chen Administration in 2006-8. It didn't contract. All that is available on the internet, so why doesn't it appear here?]The real issue, not mentioned here, is Taiwan's stagnating incomes against rising prices, which give the public the sense that the economy is not improving because their incomes are falling. Note that this is something that the KMT's China policy cannot address -- it requires action by the legislature. Before Ma was elected I wondered if having Ma in the Presidency would be enough to overcome the legislature's notorious inability to do anything, and apparently even with him in the Presidency and the Chairmanship of the KMT, nothing can be done about the island's income situation. Indeed, the China policy exacerbates it because it not only favors large businesses over small, but brings in by legal and illegal routes, products that compete with Taiwan's local and traditional businesses.
Taiwan's economy appears to have rebounded sharply, as Ma's government declared on May 20 - the day of his second anniversary in office - a whopping gross domestic product growth of 13.27 per cent in the first quarter of this year, which would help push the full growth forecast for this year to 6.14 per cent, from a projection of 4.2 per cent.
"But I don't feel that the economy has improved," Wang said.
"Nor have I seen our business grow," noted the barber, Chen Ching-wen, who had to cut the price of his haircuts in half to NT$130 to retain his customers.
Once a staunch supporter of Ma, Chen said he was highly disappointed with the performance of his government, not just in the economic area, but also in its failure to respond to the public's needs.
"He was raised in a well-to-do family, getting things most people are unable to get and being groomed to become a big shot, but he just can't think like ordinary people and feel what they feel," said the barber.
Elected with a stunning 7 million votes, Ma is known for his integrity. He rose to power bearing the public's hopes after eight years of what he described as the closed-door policy of Chen Shui-bian, who is in jail now after being convicted of corruption but is appealing. But halfway through his term in office, Ma has seen his popularity and political aura fade rapidly. Even the pro-government media gave him a thumb down for failing to live up to expectations.[MT: The indictment of Ma for having government funds in his private accounts has now officially disappeared. But it is great that SCMP affirms the negative opinion of the pro-government media.]
Critics point to slow government response, lack of aggressiveness, poor crisis management skills and an inability to connect with voters as among the major reasons the previous applause has dissipated, and they say at this rate, Ma's chances of being re-elected in 2012 are slim.
Believing that Chen's closed-door and provocation policies towards the mainland were the primary source of many of Taiwan's economic and diplomatic problems, Ma chose to engage the mainland. Cross-strait talks were held in June 2008, and 12 agreements were later signed, which opened Taiwan to mainland tourists and established direct flights as well as a series of economic and non-political exchanges.[MT: Chen did not have closed door policies toward China!]
As a result of the engagement policy, the mainland is now the major source of Taiwan's trade income, helping to improve the island's sagging economy, though only somewhat. It is also why Beijing is not opposed to Taiwan taking part in World Health Assembly meetings as an observer in the last two years, and why Taipei has been able to secure its ties with its 23 allies without being wooed away by the mainland.[MT: this paragraph is complete lunacy. The economic growth we are seeing now is a resumption of the links established during the Chen and Lee Administrations between the two economies, not the current sell out. Beijing let Taipei observe an assembly because Ma is serving its long-term goals, not because China is the major source of trade income.]
Even so, many Taiwanese under financial strain have found Ma's performance rather disappointing. They cite a grim economy and a number of other shortcomings.
"Ma must apologise to the public for failing to live up to his 6-3-3 campaign promise," said Kenneth Lin, a professor of economics at National Taiwan University.
High hopes that Ma would honour his major campaign promise had pushed his popularity up to 66 per cent shortly after he took office.
Dr Wu Hui-lin, a senior research fellow at the Chunghwa Institute of Economic Research, said Ma must do something quickly to turn the tide of public opinion or stand to lose his re-election bid in 2012.
Noting the public perception over what Ma has done to spark the economy, toy shop owner Eric Chang of Kaohsiung, a stronghold of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party, said: "The money has gone to the big bosses and the wealthy class, but not ordinary people."
Taipei-based convenience store manager David Shih said his store had never benefited from the opening of Taiwan to mainland tourists. "Not a single mainland tourist has ever come and bought anything here. Ma Ying-jeou must do something to make us feel that the economy is really improving in the next two years, if he wants a second term."
Much of this discussion here focuses on the economic issues. The SCMP does not mention that Ma's move toward China is also highly unpopular, and not just with Deep Greens. There's a widespread perception here that the KMT is too close to China.
Kudos also to the SCMP writer for citing a wide variety of pro- and anti-Ma sources. Great work, that.
I don't yet think Ma will lose in 2012. But the KMT's refusal to adopt pro-active, pro-people policies is really hurting it at the polls.....
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