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August 22, 2017

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After Mayor Ko Wen-je's decline in popularity,return Taipei to professional governance for its residents

There was a certain aura or charisma surrounding Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je when he took office in late 2014 as a self-styled "ordinary person outside of politics." His off-the-cuff remarks and way with words not only generated media talking points, but he was also bolstered by high approval ratings and quickly shot up as a rising star in Taiwanese politics.

Oh how times have changed now that Mayor Ko's approval ratings have reached a nadir in recent weeks. But does this really come as a surprise? Mayor Ko may be a skillful surgeon and possess a high IQ, but his EQ (emotional-quotient) on the other hand leaves one wanting. Not only this, his experience and recognition of the duties of a municipal leader are wholly lacking. Due to unpreparedness and his insufficient grasping of the bigger picture, Ko has been unable to craft a blueprint for administering Taipei.

The problems facing Taipei today are increasingly complex in their intricacies and consequences and cannot be solved by "ordinary" Ko. Perhaps the most memorable municipal undertaking of Ko in his year at the helm has been his handling of the so-called Five Big Corruption Cases, which has made more noise than substantial results, with no real conclusion on any of the five. The Taipei Dome fiasco with the Farglory Group has not only unnerved city residents, but illustrates how Ko views the whole suspension of construction as a mere game. The "Yui Hatano" incident on the other hand has not only defaced the reputation of the EasyCard Corp., but shown how cronyism and favoritism have pervaded the municipal team. Need there be mention of the nightmarish traffic logjams before the Chinese New Year holiday?

The point of mentioning these mishaps of the Ko administration is that they represent not one iota of making life better for Taipei residents, but the reverse. The Ko administration of Taipei is a one-man show for Ko Wen-je's failed experiments.

To be fair, many of the ideas behind Ko's policies have not been problematic from the outset. For example, canceling the free initial half-hour on YouBike rentals had a modicum of logic initially. But in reality, Ko's policies have been contradictory: while seeking to curb residents' usage of scooters and cars, he moves to raise the fares on public buses and the MRT.

With the growing ranks of highly capable municipal department heads tendering their resignations, Ko's personal politics have revealed the unsettling problem: While he craves highly talented officials, he does not appreciate or value their service ... He rather prefers to protect his own people, such as the likes of Tai Chih-chuan. The recent brouhaha over "making up" typhoon and other weather-related days off also reveals that the mayor is always ready to be increasingly stringent on ordinary people and to use city residents as lab rats for his policies.

Not only is this unfair to Taipei's residents, it reminds us that what we need is not Ko's "sensibility of the ordinary person," but a municipal governance based on reserve and rationality.

Taipei is not only Taiwan's capital, it is an important financial hub in a global world. Therefore, its governance is intricately tied with our international reputation and standing. Perhaps the plummeting of Mayor Ko's popularity in the eyes of its residents can be an opportunity for reflection: a time for him to reign in the excesses of his personal whims and to exercise leadership from the perspective of city residents.

It's time to put aside the glamour of the media spotlight, Ko, and serve some real policy "meat." The time to act is now.

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