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Friday, September 11, 2009

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Honest Self-Assessment?

In my limited experience, the key to being reflexive to feedback is to evaluate oneself critically and to demonstrate, in word and deed, that you can see both the mistakes and successes on your record, subsequently using that assessment to improve your performance.  This is especially important for political leaders.  In the UK, hubris would not be considered an attractive or confidence building personality.  Typhoon Morakot showed that Taiwanese also have limited tolerance for arrogance.  Despite this, it is strange that Taiwan's President would make the following comments: (and these on cross-strait policy)
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) yesterday told guests at the Presidential Office that there was much room for improvement in terms of solidifying the rule of law in Taiwan, but congratulated himself for what he said was his careful exercise of power.

Ma said that those in power had to guard against corruption and abusing their authority.

Citing the example of calls for him to declare a state of emergency amid the crisis left behind by Typhoon Morakot, Ma said he would have risked abusing his power had he given in to public pressure.

I’d like to leave a legacy of building a country based on the rule of law,” he said. “That is the main reason why I am willing to find time to see you today.” (Seemingly, Cohen's previous criticisms have stung Ma - this is hardly a warm welcome)
If a leader congratulates him or herself I tend to be immediately suspicious.  It seems a very transparent and slightly desperate attempt write the historical record in their own favour, rather than let public opinion be the judge.  It is the next claim however, that Ma would risk abusing his own power if he had declared a state of emergency, that is at the very least strange if not outright illogical. 

Does Ma mean that declaring a state of emergency would would have put him in conflict with the constitutional limits of the power of his position or does he mean that if he had declared a state of emergency, he would then have had such increased powers that he would be unable to stop himself abusing them?     

Perhaps there's something lost in the translation, but on the face of it Ma's comments indicate that the President lacks skills in reasoning and rational debate which would allow him to make a much better case to support his decisions.  One contrast between Ma and Chen is apt here.  Chen fought his way through local and then national politics to become first Taipei Mayor and then President. Along the way, he had to win a war of words with many a tough opponent, both in the DPP and the KMT.  As a trained lawyer, Chen was able to clearly articulate his vision, inspire and maintain confidence in his leadership.  That was until about 2006.  In the early 1990's Ma and Chen went head to head in a public debate.  I forget the details but in the video I saw, it was Chen who won the crowd with fast and pithy responses.  A younger looking Ma was left fumbling for his words.  Fast forward to the present day and Ma as President seemingly continues to lack the skill of oration or clear elucidation of argument.  This may in part be attributable to the way Ma rose up to become President. In contrast to Chen, Ma was a loyal secretary to Chiang Jing-guo and his father was a mid-ranked party member who was actively shaping his son for a role that Ma perhaps did not readily choose for himself.  Ma's experience was not of engaging with the democratic process, and having the experience shape and deepen his character, but rather be selected, outside of merit, on the basis of who he was rather than what he was.  This may be one of the reasons why as soon as a real disaster befell his nation, Ma turned out to be less the competent executive than the media had built him up to be.  In a way, if in his election campaign, Ma and pro-KMT media had painted him is terms less rosy then the high expectations and subsequent disappointment could have been avoided. 

6 Comments:

At 4:05 PM, Blogger Tim Maddog said...

It could be that if Ma had declared a national emergency that only related to Taiwan, the illusion that he maintains about being the president of a country which includes Outer Mongolia, Tibet, and Taiwan would have vanished like tears in the rain.

Tim Maddog

 
At 12:24 AM, Blogger Masalu said...

Both Chen and Ma are weak presidents. Before Morakot came visiting many experts on landslides have voiced concern about the ever expanding betel nut plantation and the tea 'meadows' replacing the pines and tundra of Taiwan's alpine peaks.

This is not an oratorical contest
but a test of wills to do the right thing instead of thinking about the loss of voter support among these very influential farmers.

 
At 4:45 PM, Blogger Thomas said...

The interesting thing about Ma though is that the foreign media, defying reason, reports faithfully on what he says. There were cracks in this unified approach immediately following Morakot, but now Ma's congratulatory coterie of dull-minded reporters is almost back to where it was before the storm, largely thanks to the replacement of the premier.

Ma won't really feel the pressure unless the KMT feels the pressure. The KMT won't feel the pressure until they lose the support of foreigners for their unificationist agenda (they already are lacking the support of many locals). Foreigners will maintain their love for Ma irrationally unless he really makes some other big mistakes. He has plenty of time to do all the damage he wants.

 
At 9:23 PM, Blogger Masalu said...

Thomas, with due respect may I ask you what support the 'foreigners' especially Uncle Sam and his minions gave Taiwan?

President Chen then and Ma at present are both persona non grata in Washington and the White House.

Both were even strictly and totally banned from making any press conferences while in US soil and Pres. Chen was not even allowed to disembark in Anchorage!

Is that the foreigner Americans way of supporting Taiwan?

You can tell it to the Marines brother!

 
At 11:48 AM, Blogger Thomas said...

Masalu, I think you have misinterpreted my remark. I don't equate support for Ma/KMT as support for Taiwan. This is because Ma/KMT often act in ways that are not in the interests of the Taiwanese.

However, if you want examples of support for Ma, I can provide several:

Ma spoke by teleconference in Washington on 22 April 2009 about the TRA.

Ma made a transit stop in Hawaii that lasted over a day and was able to meet Hawaii's governor.

Ma is constantly lauded by foreign journalists. Do I need to refer to the dumb recent article about his "gutsiness" from Mental_floss to prove my point? At every corner, someone in the journalistic community: Frank Ching, Tom Plate, Ralph Cossa are just a few examples that spring to mind right away.

Ma doesn't really deserve all of the support he gets, and naturally I would prefer it if those who offered support really had the best interests of Taiwanese in mind rather than being preoccupied by how Ma's disastrous efforts make the lives of foreign politicians easier or satisfy some sort of imaginary Great China dream.

For foreign politicians and journalist, this is also, to use your words, "a test of wills to do the right thing". Unfortunately, I think they are failing that test miserably.

 
At 4:49 PM, Blogger bluishbanana said...

surely the statement "我把你們當人看" (said to the indigenous tribal people) should be evidence enough to prove that Ma is a complete fool, not to mention arrogant. Normally led by the KMT noose, but if unsupervised, will say idiotic things.

 

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