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July 24, 2017

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Ma's timid arrogance at the root of nation's discontent

President Ma Ying-jeou's latest performance in reacting to the student protests represents the continuation of his unfortunate habit of souring the most well-intended initiatives with his demeanor of timid arrogance, inciting the ire of the populace while hampering Taiwan's progress.

With the applause of industry leaders and organizations, Ma's agenda of promoting closer ties with China is clearly backed by the people, as seen in his two overwhelming presidential election victories. Meanwhile, few but the most fringe opinions would support the notion that former president Chen Sui-bian's policies of protectionism and isolation represents a viable path toward Taiwan's prosperity.

Yet under Ma's leadership the methods employed by the ruling party to gain legislative approval for the Cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement managed to ignite the largest outbreak of student protests in Taiwan's history. The situation quickly deteriorated following responses issued first by Premier Jiang Yi-hua last Saturday and then by the president on Sunday, resulting in the need to resort to heavy-handed law enforcement intervention.

In addition to the injuries suffered by those on site, the TAIEX lost 154 points over the course of last week, causing share losses of NT$533.7 billion, amid concerns of delayed prosperity through cross-strait collaborations when it is most direly needed following 15 years of suppressed growth in wages and soaring goods prices.

Some examples of Ma's timid arrogance include last year's "September strife," where Ma's pursuit of justice against illegal lobbying resulted in the conviction of Prosecutor-General Huang Shih-ming (黃世銘), while the target of the investigation — opposition party caucus whip Ker Chien-ming (柯建銘) — stands unscathed and Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng retains his position as perhaps Taiwan's most respected elder statesmen and arbitrator of disputes.

In that instance, Ma's mission was noble, yet the methods employed were lacking in the planning of contingencies. A miscalculation of the public's response followed by Ma's inability to comprehend the potential outcomes often turned the narrative against him.

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