The joy and excitement that prevailed in 2008 when Ma Ying-jeou was sworn in for a first term as president of Taiwan were not evident Sunday on Ma's second inauguration, some observers said. In 2008, after Ma defeated the candidate of Chen Shui-bian's Democratic Progressive Party, there were high hopes that Ma would improve the island's economy and relations with China.
But on the eve of Ma's inauguration for a second term, tens of thousands took to the streets of Taipei on a rainy day in protest against Ma and his policies, which the opposition parties claimed have created harsher living conditions in Taiwan.
The protesters, many wearing headbands bearing the word "anger," chanted slogans such as "Ma administration incompetent" and "Ma, step down!" as they gathered for an evening rally.
Meanwhile, a few kilometers away, Ma held an unusual last-minute press conference at the Presidential Office detailing areas in which he said he could have done better in the past four years.
The following are excerpts from local media coverage of Saturday's demonstrations and Ma's apology over his performance in his first term.
United Daily News:
The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) called on the public to take to the streets, stating "life is hard" and asking Ma to "come forward and explain." Despite the bad weather, the protesters marched along three routes in the city Saturday. They shouted "Ma administration incompetent" and "step down, Ma!" The protests ended around 9 p.m.
The DPP said more than 120,000 people took part in the demonstrations but the police estimated the crowds at 55,000. The opposition Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) was planning more protests on Sunday and the DPP was also scheduled to hold demonstrations in other cities and counties apart from Taipei.
On the eve of Ma's inauguration, three groups of protesters, led by DPP acting Chairwoman Chen Chu, former DPP Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen and former Premier Su Tseng-chang, gathered near the DPP headquarters in Taipei.
When Tsai, the DPP presidential candidate in the January election, stepped onto the stage, she was greeted with shouts of "President Tsai."
"Because I failed to win the election, we had to come out onto the streets today," Tsai said in apology to her supporters.
She said Ma was safe in his office, protected by barricades.
"However, a president under tight security is far removed from the people," she added, urging Ma to listen more to the public.
At his press conference, Ma started by saying that it was being held in response to the recent dissatisfaction with his performance expressed by the public, including the people "two or three kilometers away and those who would probably come out tomorrow as well."
Ma said there were areas in which he could have done better and that he could empathize with the people who were angry.
Looking back over the past four years, Ma said, he could see "four things that have been unsatisfactory."
He said he did not create enough job opportunities, the average income has not increased fast enough, and the gap between rich and poor has not shrunk enough. In addition, the government has not adequately communicated its policies to the people to allow them to understand, the president said. (May 20, 2012)
As economic issues such as electricity rate hikes and a capital gains tax continued to be hotly debated, anti-government protests were held in Taiwan, which included people who were not even supporters of the opposition pan-green parties.
One of the protesters, a man surnamed Sheng, said he does not "feel anything for the DPP" and that he voted for Ma in the January election in the hope of a better life.
However, "since the election, prices have been going up and up," he said. "Don't you think that's really mean?"
At his press conference, President Ma apologized over recent government decisions to raise fuel and electricity prices, ease restrictions on imports of U.S. beef, and introduce a capital gains tax.
"I feel uneasy myself, and I feel that I have caused you misery. I'm sorry for that," said the president whose approval ratings have fallen to a new low in recent weeks.
But acting DPP Chairwoman Chen Chu said Ma had only apologized for "causing misery" and had not proposed ways of making amends. "The DPP cannot accept that," she said.
As for Ma's admission of inadequate communication of his policies, Chen said the policies were misguided in the first place. "No matter how you communicate them, they would mean nothing," she said. (May 20, 2012)
As the DPP lambasted President Ma, TSU Chairman Huang Kun-huei asked how can Ma not be embarrassed to take office with his popularity at a record low.
Lin Kuo-cheng, a Taipei City councilor from the opposition People First Party (PFP), also led dozens of people in a protest Saturday. PFP Spokesman Wu Kun-yu said none of the four points Ma raised at the conference could be considered a response to the people's complaints.
"The event was simply beside the point" and only added to the public's anger, Wu said. Wu said Ma was not wrong to push reforms. What was wrong were the types of reform Ma wanted and the direction he was moving in, Wu said. (May 20, 2012)
(By Kendra Lin)