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China Times: Challenges ahead for President Ma

2012/05/20 18:58:14

President Ma Ying-jeou was inaugurated Sunday for a second term amid plummeting approval ratings and protests in Taipei.

Since Ma's re-election four months ago, his approval rating has dropped to less than 30 percent. His falling popularity is largely viewed as related to his domestic policies such as utility rate hikes, a proposal to lift the ban on U.S. beef imports containing the drug ractopamine, and a capital gains tax proposal.

The public's discontent means Ma will face severe challenges in his second term. Ma's peaceful cross-strait policies were successful in his first term, but it will be difficult for him to negotiate a peace pact with China in the second term since such an agreement would require strong public support.

The gloomy international economic situation, exacerbated by Greek's possible exit from the eurozone, may further complicate Ma's second term. Taiwan's exports and economic growth have been less than impressive in recent years. Another international financial crisis could further drag down Taiwan's economy.

Taiwan's per capita income has remained at the same level for the past 20 years, while utility costs, health insurance, commodities, and housing prices have continued to rise.

The Ma administration will need to handle the public's gloomy sentiment with care and develop relevant policies.

Human capital is the country's most sustainable resource. But it is gradually being lost because of a low birth rate, less than satisfactory education system, serious brain drain, and the failure to attract foreign talent. The government needs to come up with effective childbirth and immigration policies to avoid loss of talent.

Several waves of protests held prior to Ma's inauguration also served as a warning for the president.

Ma's administration failed to realize that the proposal to lift the ban on U.S. beef containing the feed additive ractopamine undermined the public's trust in him. The untimely announcement of electricity rate hikes and a tax on investors' capital gains only made matters worse.

The electricity rate increase and the capital gains tax are necessary in order to improve the country's financial state but the lack of transparency in the government's decision-making process and the number of unpopular policies announced in a short period of time came off as arrogant and indifferent to public opinion.

Ma will need to communicate his policies better to the public and to be more tactful in dealing with public affairs in the future. (Editorial abstract -- May 20, 2012)

(By Ann Chen)