With two years left, is Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou in danger of becoming lame duck?

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 3:56am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 3:56am

Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou marks six years since taking office today with his administration having spent much of its time trying to forge closer ties with the mainland.

Political observers say Ma is likely to continue in the same vein during the two years he has left as he attempts to ensure a lasting political legacy.

But analysts say there are doubts as to whether he will be able to take the process of improving relations with Beijing any further forward.

Ma has seen his approval rating fall from a high of 68 per cent to a low of 9 per cent during his time as president.

His government has been beset by the island's lacklustre economic performance and the perception among some critics that he has run his administration poorly. On top of this, he faces sharp political opposition, with the pro-independence camp wary of his moves for closer ties with the mainland and seeking to thwart his efforts at every step.

Ma has in the past received enormous credit for his policy to end the decades-old enmity with the mainland, analysts note.

His promise to engage with Beijing when he started his first four-year term as president in 2008 has resulted in a marked improvement in once bitter cross-strait relations. Nationalist forces fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the civil war on the mainland to Communist forces.

This policy of engagement has won him applause from the United States and other countries that want to see stability in the region instead of the tensions stoked by former leaders, including Chen Shui-bian who supported independence for Taiwan.

Beijing has repeatedly warned this would lead to an attack on the island, as it sees Taiwan as part of China.

During Ma's term in office, Taiwan and Beijing have signed 21 economic and non-political cooperation agreements to help increase mutual trust and understanding.

But this could be as far as the process goes, according to George Tsai Wei, a professor of political science at the Chinese Culture University in Taipei.

"Political confrontation and ideological struggle over Taiwanese identity have made it difficult for him to go further and the growth of the Taiwan-centric movement, including the recent 'sunflower' student protests, have all hampered him from going any further," Tsai said.

Wang Kung-yi, a professor of international affairs at Tamkang University in Taipei, said it would be difficult for Ma to introduce the trade services pact with the mainland that prompted student protesters to occupy the legislature in March and April.

"The 'sunflower' protest has pointed to a growing trend of public doubts over closer cross-strait relations, and if Ma is unable to address this, he will in practical terms become a lame duck," Wang said.

About 200 students occupied the legislature from March 18 in protest over the pact, which they said would threaten jobs on the island and the nation's democracy.

Ma is due to deliver a speech at a university in Taichung to mark the anniversary of his taking office and is also scheduled to talk to students at the college.

Taiwanese media have suggested this was an attempt to woo support among young people after the controversy created by the "sunflower" movement and to inject new vigour into his administration as he heads into the final two years of his term.