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April 30, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright April 30, 2008. Used by permission.


With just three weeks until president-elect Ma Ying-jeou’s inauguration, many Taiwanese and their friends and relatives abroad are experiencing a sense of optimism, perhaps best expressed in the frequent utterances of the phrase mashang jiuhao 馬上就好, which can mean either “Everything will ready right away” or “Things will get better as soon as Ma takes power”. At the same time, however, there is also a growing sense of trepidation about some of the challenges facing the in-coming Ma administration:

1. To begin with, much of Taiwan’s non-Mainlander population has yet to be convinced that the new administration will be sensitive to their needs. For example, when the first round of cabinet appointments was announced, more than a few eyebrows were raised about the sizeable percentage of Mainlanders in the cabinet (as of this posting, approximately 25% of the new cabinet appointees were Mainlanders, who make up about 15% of Taiwan’s total population). Others voiced dismay that southern Taiwanese elites like Chan Chi-hsien 詹啟賢, who worked hard to get out the vote for the Ma campaign, ended up being passed over for key positions. While the latest round of appointments has proven somewhat less controversial (at least in terms of sub-ethnic politics, but see #2 and #3 below), people will still be watching to see how things develop.

A related and perhaps even thornier issue is that of transitional justice (轉型正義), and in particular what to do about the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall (國立中正紀念堂), which President Chen Shui-bian’s administration attempted to rename as the National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall (國立台灣民主紀念館), only to have its efforts blocked by the Legislative Yuan. A similar problem surrounds the Cihhu Presidential Burial Palace (慈湖陵寢), to which Ma paid an emotional visit shortly after his election (see previous blogposts for discussions of these two sites). Concerns have also been expressed by the appointment of Wang Ching-feng 王清峰, former convener of the March 19 Shooting Truth Investigation Special Committee (三一九槍擊事件真相調查特別委員會), to the position of Minister of Justice.

2. A second challenge involves the merits of bringing back officials from previous KMT administrations, which has given rise to a sense of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” (from The Who’s rock classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again”). One Chinese expression currently being used to describe the situation is “old wine in new bottles” (老酒裝新瓶), although some wags prefer “old wine in old bottles” (老酒裝老瓶). While administrative experience can be most valuable, questions have been raised about when the younger generation will get its chance. There is also a pressing need to avoid returning to the corrupt politics of previous decades of one-party rule, especially since the overwhelming KMT majority in the Legislative Yuan bodes ill for the prospect of checks and balances. After years of voiciferous complaints about corruption during Chen Shui-bian’s presidency, it would be particulalry ironic if this spectre were to haunt his successor.