Taiwan’s President: Already Starting to Quack? 我是"改革"王
Less than two weeks after his re-inauguration, Mr. Ma has already lost his finance minister, Christina Liu, who tendered her resignation after a cabinet-proposed tax plan was overturned by Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) lawmakers on Monday. Ms. Liu was under direct instructions from the president to spearhead massive tax reforms, in particular a re-implementation of the capital gain tax, to fulfill Mr. Ma’s campaign pledge to narrowing the island’s wealth gap.
Political observers said although the controversy over the new tax may have cost Ms. Liu her job, it is Mr. Ma’s political future and the KMT’s fate that are being put through the grinder.
In addition to the capital gain tax, a string of unpopular policies such as recent oil and electricity price hikes, a lingering feud over full importation of U.S. meats, and the imminent hike in national health insurance premiums have taken a toll on Mr. Ma’s approval ratings, causing many KMT elected officials to distance themselves from the leader, analysts said.
The overturning of Mr. Ma’s tax plan by KMT lawmakers Monday was the caucus’ second effort in the same month to stonewall the highly unpopular bill. In April, close to 20 KMT lawmakers also abstained from siding with the government’s proposal to allow importation of U.S. meats containing trace amounts of ractopamine, a drug used as a feed additive to promote leanness in pigs and cattle.
According to various polls, Mr. Ma’s popularity has fallen to 15-35%, a steep drop from his 51% victory in January’s election.
“With the 2014 local elections and the 2016 combined legislative and presidential elections down the pipeline, KMT lawmakers are trying to disassociate themselves from the power center, making Mr. Ma a lame duck president much sooner than expected,” said Joseph Wu, a political science professor at National Chengchi University.
Mr. Wu said although Mr. Ma has repeatedly stressed his policies are necessary to sharpen Taiwan’s competitiveness amid the current global downturn, the public has been reluctant to side with him “because the formation of the policies has been so disorganized,” he added.
The government’s proposal for a capital gain tax, for example, was first pitched on March 28 but has since gone through several revisions. The back and forth debates and vehement opposition from the business community have deterred many investors from placing bets in the Taiwan stock market, said Randy Chang, a KGI Securities stock analyst.
Capital Securities analyst Diana Wu said in addition to the escalating eurozone debt woes, the looming fear of such tax was a major contributor to the Taiwan stock market’s 8.7% decline since late March.
However, if the government ends up adopting the party caucus’ version, Ms. Wu noted, the KMT, especially Mr. Ma, will be further criticized for kowtowing to the ultra-rich while – an image the KMT has been trying hard to shake.
“The lack of coordination between the administration and the legislature is making the KMT look very bad and unreliable. What the president needs to do is to put more pressure on the legislature so the party can have a united front,” said Yen Chen-shen, a research fellow at the Institution of International Relations.
During his re-inauguration news conference on May 20, the president resolutely rejected the notion of relinquishing his KMT chairmanship despite the growing discontent over his performance in both jobs.
Mr. Ma, once a fixture on nearly every KMT campaign poster, is now a popular target of criticism among vitriolic talk show hosts across the political spectrum. If he doesn’t find a way to be more assertive with lawmakers, analysts say, he risks spending the next four years as the lamest of lame ducks.
– Jenny W. Hsu