TAIPEI BRIEFING
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After missteps by Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou, more shoes fly in his direction

The Taiwanese public have taken to expressing their anger over the performance of their president by hurling footwear his way

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 November, 2013, 10:50pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 November, 2013, 5:03am

As well as venting their displeasure at the performance of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou in the usual ways, his growing numbers of critics have reached into their wardrobes for a new weapon of choice - shoes.

Since December last year, when Ma joined the lengthening list of global political figures who have been shoe targets, he has encountered flung footwear on at least nine occasions.

Like US President George W. Bush, who had shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist at a news conference in Baghdad in 2008, and former premier Wen Jiabao , who had a shoe thrown at him by a German student during a lecture at Cambridge University in Britain in 2009, the Taiwanese leader has not been hit by any of the island's shoe hurlers.

But it hasn't been for lack of trying.

Ma experienced shoes being thrown at him for the second time on September 9 at a demonstration by workers protesting against government inaction over layoffs.

Since then, he has had shoes aimed at him periodically, most recently on October 20 when a mother holding a baby launched a shoe at him during an activity related to a cultural festival for Taiwan's Hakka people.

The frequency of the incidents has become such that security authorities have put up protective nets around Ma when he makes public appearances. Late last month, media reported police authorities had budgeted for 60 shoe-catching nets to protect the president.

Some Ma aides are also reported to have asked Ma to limit the amount of practice that the shoe-throwers get by reducing his public appearances.

Neither measure will pacify the protesters. Ma, whose approval rating has plunged to a low of 9 per cent, would do better to ask himself why people are so upset with him.

In September and October, Ma was engaged in a political fight with his long-time Kuomintang rival, speaker of the island's legislature Wang Jin-pyng, that left him little time to deal with the growing public unhappiness over the government's inability to improve the sagging economy and boost their livelihood. Government statistics showed that Taiwan's gross domestic product grew a mere 1.58 per cent in the third quarter of this year, below the 2.47 per cent growth predicted.

Furthermore, despite the dismal economy, Ma's government went ahead with its planned increase in electricity prices from October 1, prompting an angry outcry from the public. The government also failed to intervene when the high speed rail system it has invested in announced price increases this month.

Worst yet, a spate of food safety scandals, including tainted starch and adulterated cooking oil, have further undermined consumer confidence in the government's ability to protect the public health.

In a recent speech at a national prayer breakfast meeting, Ma said his government had heard the people and acknowledged that it was not doing enough to meet public expectations. He asked for more time in order to make improvements.

But he is most criticised for his perceived inability to understand the feelings of the public and heed their voices. Instead of dodging shoes, Ma should spend more time on reflecting on what the public really expects him to do.

lawrence.chung@scmp.com