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    Fallen hero: How the tide turned for Taiwan’s Ma

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    TAIPEI: He won Taiwan’s largest ever landslide victory, a safe pair of hands promising prosperity and stability—but President Ma Ying-jeou leaves office this month caricatured as incompetent, aloof and wildly out of step with public sentiment.

    Coolly coiffed with a sweep of jet-black hair, urbane Ma was seen as a reliable “Mr. Clean” when he stormed to victory for the Kuomintang party in 2008, replacing an outgoing opposition government mired in corruption.

    However, as he prepares to hand the reins of power to opposition leader Tsai Ing-wen on May 20, Ma faces possible court action and leaves a legacy fraught with division.

    Relations with Beijing had sunk to a low under Ma’s predecessor President Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party.

    Ma banked on friendlier ties for Taiwan to thrive. A rapprochement and a slew of trade deals followed, culminating with a historic handshake with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year.

    But while Ma may have fulfilled a personal ambition, the public felt short-changed and increasingly saw him as a mainland puppet jeopardizing Taiwan’s sovereignty. China still views self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory, with reunification as its ultimate aim.

    During student-led protests against a China trade pact in 2014, rally posters portrayed Ma with a Hitler moustache.

    Other banners showed him with antlers growing out of his ears—a pointed jibe after Ma had mistakenly said that deer antlers used for Chinese medicine were actually hair from the animal’s ears.

    At their worst, his popularity faded to 9 percent—earning him the nickname “9-percent President” among opponents.

    Ma was “unable to reach out to the local Taiwanese,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, instead making relations with Beijing his priority.

    He also failed to bridge divisions within his own party.

    “He lacks leadership and charisma,” said Cabestan. “He was unable to lead and control the KMT, his ministers, and gave the impression of being soft with China and hard with the opposition.”
     
    Faded hopes
    After his presidential immunity lapses, Ma will face possible lawsuits from political rivals relating to the alleged leaking of political secrets and failing to declare assets.

    It is an ignominious sign-off for the Harvard-educated former justice minister and Taipei mayor, and son of a senior KMT official.

    Beleaguered Ma has admitted his government could have done better to meet the demands of a public stretched by high rents and low salaries—but he staunchly defends his China policy as having brought peace to the region.

    “Ma’s policies have painted him as for the one percent and China, at a time when society at large is fed up with both,” said Jonathan Sullivan, associate professor at the University of Nottingham’s School of Contemporary Chinese Studies in Britain.

    “Adding to these policy outcomes is Ma’s personal reputation for aloofness, indecisiveness—but paradoxically with an authoritarian streak—incompetence and inability to balance the interests of his party, Taiwan and his own personal objectives,” Sullivan added.

    Even staunch KMT supporters have turned their backs, with the party in tatters having lost its majority in parliament for the first time under Ma.

    “We had high hopes, but we saw our faith in him fading away,” said Sun Chieh-yi, 59, a retired watch shop owner who comes from a traditionally pro-KMT family. “People do not feel their lives are any better than before.”

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    1. Ma is no hero…

      Resorting to the well-tried means of national hatred and war, is illustrated by the dispatch to Senkaku Islands, of coast guard escorts for protester carrying not his regime’s flag, but that of People’s Republic of China, on 4 July, 2012. Exactly a day after his Cabinet Secretary-General Lin Yi-shih, was found demanding a commission of NT$83 million in partitions of 3-3-2.3 and in US dollar bills, with no traces found. Lin’s father Lin Hsien-Pao precipitously died on 2013-3-23, in Mafia-like fashion.

      To add insult to injury, next day Ma called upon the Japanese on the possible signing of a Free-Trade agreement, while revising elementary school textbooks, which before 1971 stated that Formosa’s northernmost boundary is the Agincourt Isle, to include Senkaku Islands.

      3 days before the Philippines legislative elections on 13 May, 2013 and 10 days before the formal application for recall/impeachment against Ma’s presidency, a fisherman of the Formosan fishing boat Kuang Ta Hsing, which accosted in the waters off Balintang Islands, 80km north of mainland Luzon, was killed by the Philippine Coast Guard.

      While Ma sanctimoniously said none should vent against Phillippines workers, Filipino workers on Formosa were immediately sanctioned, and 2 squadrons of F-16 and Mirage 2000, Fleet of La Fayette, Kidd, Perry Class Destroyers were provocatively dispatched to the waters near Phillippines on 16 May, 2013. 5 days later, on 21 May, 2013, Chinese naval vessels with troop transports occupied Ayungin Shoal, trapping the Filipino marine garrison.

      On 17 September 2012, Ma’s ‘presidential’ office announced ‘National Security Council’ plans to issue Tiaoyutai Stamps for the Senkaku Islands, to be mailed to Japan. On 3 Aug 2012, Fleet 168, a 3 warships complement under the command of Chang Feng-chiang violated Japanese ADIZ environ Yonaguni Island, immediately followed by Ma call for ‘East China Sea Peace Initiative.’

      On 25 Sept 2012, Coastguard official Hideaki Takase remarked that“shooting water cannon at an official vessel is like waging a war against its country.”Again, on 23 Jan 2013, days before the Party Chairman election, 4 coast guard vessels of Ma’s regime’s skirmished with that of Japan’s.

      According to military.china.com, on 18 Feb 2014, 2 coast guard vessels named ‘ New Taipeh’ and ‘Peace Star’ , intruded upon the oil fields disputed exclusively by both China and Japan, but not Formosa, and confronted Japanese coast guard vessel PL-120 for over 30 minutes. Then on 26 Feb, 2014, Ma suddenly proclaimed ‘code of conduct’ in the East China Sea.

      According to pro-regime TV channel ettoday, Chen Jin-fu, owner of Sotobanari Island and Uchibanari Island in the Iriomode Islands, Okinawa since 1980s, who was negotiating the purchase by unknown Hong Kong buyer, was the victim of a homicide. He is said to refuse that purchase just prior to his death.