The Ma Ying-jeou Shuffle

A guest post from Jerome Keating.

The Ma Ying-jeou Shuffle: How Long Can He Keep It Up?

“You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” Abraham Lincoln’s words indicate the growing pressure on the Kuomintang (KMT) and its front-runner Ma Ying-jeou.

Politically speaking, Taiwan’s 2008 Presidential Election is still a long ways off, nevertheless Ma the Chairman of the KMT and current Mayor of Taipei is already running hard.

Ma is finishing up a European tour making his name known in political circles, doing public relations and supposedly drumming up investments for Taipei. Last year he did the same in the United States. To have international name-dropping experience and connections is always good cachet for anyone running for president of a country and Ma knows that well.

Yet while Ma runs hard for the presidential office; he still goes nowhere fast in taking a clear stand on key issues that relate to Taiwan. Instead he shuffles from side to side uttering amorphous declarations trying to be all things to all men.

On the ill-gotten assets of the KMT party he states that they are one of the problems that his party faces. Yet he has been chairman for over six months, and still has done nothing to rectify that situation. Nothing that is, unless selling one of the properties and putting the money in the KMT coffers is considered action. (Ref. my August 28 entry, “Is Selling Still Not Stealing.”)

On the issue of Taiwan’s possible unification with China, Ma had stated some time ago that the time was not right and that China must first “move toward” democracy. Though his position has changed, the residue vagueness remains.

What does the phrase “moves toward democracy” mean? If China jails only thirty dissident journalists in a year instead of forty, is that “moving toward” democracy? If it dismantles 100 of 700 missiles pointed at Taiwan does that qualify for “moving toward” democracy? Do open elections for inconsequential positions or voting on the color of Shanghai garbage trucks fit the bill?

I have watched Ma for over fifteen years and always found him more concerned with image than results. (Ref. my August 21 entry “More Style than Substance”) The Taipei press on the other hand has always treated him with deference and indulgence. Instead of pressing him for position statements it concentrates on photographing him in his jogging shorts or at smiling appearances for public events.

I am reminded of the lawyer/character “Billy Flynn” played by Richard Gere in the movie Chicago. Flynn does a soft-shoe shuffle to the tune of “Razzle Dazzle” and sings “Give ’em an act with lots of flash in it, and the reaction will be passionate. . . Razzle dazzle ‘em and they’ll beg you for more.”

Ma’s trip abroad may have been good for his image at home, and may leave his supporters begging for more but it has also brought unexpected problems. The international press is much more seasoned and experienced than that in Taiwan where the words of the song still apply, “How can they see with sequins in their eyes?”

In Europe the probing questions and consistent focus on what Ma actually says are the rule. First Ma tells students that Taiwan should not negotiate with China as long as they have their missiles pointed at the island. But the following day, this shifts and Ma says negotiations for unification can start even if the missiles are still there.

Next a newspaper ad put out by the KMT and approved by Chairman Ma states that the KMT admits that independence is a valid option for the people. Again, the following day, the soft shoe dance does a series of quick back steps, and it is stated the KMT holds to the noncommittal “retain the status quo.”

For many in the pan-blue camp, to even admit independence as an option that democratically minded people can choose is something to be resisted. So now Ma must shuffle faster. With each answer, new questions arise and more specific clarity is sought.

Naturally any politician wants to appeal to as broad a base as possible, but sooner or later he/she must take a stand and let the voters know it. For the smiling and vague Ma, this is not his trademark. The song continues, “When you’re in trouble go into your dance. . . Long as you keep “em way off balance, how can they spot you’ve got no talent.”

Not everyone is impressed with a soft shoe and for best effect a soft shoe razzle dazzle number depends on low lighting, shadows and a partisan audience.

The 2008 election is still a ways off and you can’t fool/please all of the people all of the time. As more spotlights brighten the stage, Ma “Billy Flynn”-jeou may have to learn a new routine.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

Sounds like Ma is trying to figure out where the limits are at before he formally declares his candidacy.

Personally, I don’t know why he even tries, since the DPP are working hard in destroying themselves any way.

February 18, 2006 @ 11:21 am | Comment

This Jerome Keating PhD seems to hate any non-DDP groups with a passion. Perhaps he is like the official PhD spokesperson of DPP? In any case, I do agree with Ma Yin Jiu is a politician just like Chen SB is. Their priorities are not the welfare of Taiwan, not the economics of Taiwan, not even the independence/unification of Taiwan. Do you know what their priorities are? You guessed it, to win as many elections as possible and stay in office for as long as possible. The CCP needs to understand this basic premise when dealing with any Taiwan politicians.

February 18, 2006 @ 12:40 pm | Comment

Ma is a gifted politician. The CCP should hire him and bring him over to China. It would be a win-win situation for both China and Taioan.

Great article.

February 18, 2006 @ 2:14 pm | Comment

Before winning the leadership of the KMT, Ma had stated that until the CCP officially condemn the June 4th Tiananmen Massacre, there will be no talks on reunification. I wonder if Chairman Ma will keep his promise?

February 18, 2006 @ 4:50 pm | Comment

To China_hand, Just because I point out inconsistencies and flaws, don’t think I hate or am the enemy of a group.

One question that I believe the KMT has not dealt with openly (though perhaps privately), is that if you look at its long history, “Why have so many good men, been silent?” or if they spoke up, “Why did the others let them be shall we say disposed of?”

February 18, 2006 @ 7:58 pm | Comment

To China_hand, Just because I point out inconsistencies and flaws,
don’t think I hate or am the enemy of a group.

This is China Hand’s fatal mistake: To him, criticism equals hatred. Maybe it equals compassion or caring. But he can never see it that way.

February 18, 2006 @ 8:13 pm | Comment

Yeah, to him it’s always “my way or no way!”

February 19, 2006 @ 3:37 am | Comment

I agree with you, Jerome. A nice article. Ma is more of a twister than Tony Blair!

February 19, 2006 @ 7:08 am | Comment

To China_hand, we are in agreement in that this unfortunately seems to be a malaise that overtakes all elected officials and one that voters must hold their feet to the fire with i.e. have them keep improving the country as their top priority.
However, I also think the CCP already understands your premise well; they have one of the longest records of non-power sharing.

February 19, 2006 @ 6:03 pm | Comment

Raj, could you give me more of the Brits views on Tony Blair;

from things I read I find he has a charismatic way of saying things much akin to Bill Clinton. i.e. in your heart of hearts you say to yourself, “This man is lying.” Yet you think, “He still seems like such a nice guy.”

February 19, 2006 @ 6:25 pm | Comment

Good article –

You may be right on him flip-flopping but at the end of the day he will be the next president. Inspite of what his agenda may be there is not one person in the green camp that could pose a challenge to him.

Kind of sad isn’t it? He’s so bad but greens can’t come up with anyone or anything better. (Kind of like the democrats)

You did not point out how predicable Taiwan’s voters are – although the election is more than two years away most people Taiwanese or otherwise have already decided. He’s has everyone from light green to dark blue in his corner already.

I would love to hear what other scenarios you have that could derail this blue phenonmenon.

February 19, 2006 @ 9:41 pm | Comment

Right now it does seem that if Ma can perform his balancing act and just keeps his feet in the two boats, he has the best shot.

I have no current scenarios, but for politics anywhere, in Taiwan, the USA, Europe etc. two years is still a long time.
Look at how Bush was riding high upon his re-election. Or six months ago, Denmark seemed Mr. Nice Guy to the Arab world.

February 20, 2006 @ 12:17 am | Comment

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