Back on the campaign trail? Former Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou back in the spotlight with launch of namesake foundation

Ma takes swipe at incumbent’s policies at inauguration of organisation backed by Foxconn’s Terry Gou

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 6:34pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 9:01pm

Former Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou launched his foundation in a high-profile ceremony on Friday, the first step in what observers say might be a comeback for the 2020 presidential election.

The Ma Ying-jeou Foundation, which officially opens its doors on Wednesday, will also provide a much-needed channel for Ma to communicate with Beijing to steer cross-strait ties towards less turbulent waters.

“The Republic of China [Taiwan’s official title] developed steadily in the [eight] years [of my presidency], but the current leader has deviated from this path and entered instead a stormy and risky waterway full of reefs,” Ma told more than 300 people, including three former vice-presidents and five ex-premiers during the inauguration ceremony in Taipei.

He’s back: Ma Ying-jeou rebuilds his popularity – might another run for Taiwan’s presidency be in store?

He said the financial difficulties faced by the general population and farmers was proof that the government of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was headed in the wrong economic, energy and cross-strait direction.

“We hope to realign the direction of our nation to allow Taiwan to return to the right path,” he said.

Ma was referring to the mainland engagement policy he pursued during his time as president between 2008 and 2016, a period of relative calm between Beijing and Taipei.

Beijing considers Taiwan a wayward province subject eventual union, if necessary by force. Ma’s engagement policy was based on his support of the “1992 consensus”, a tacit understanding reached in Hong Kong in 1992 under which the two sides agreed there was only “one China”, though each could have its own interpretation of that China stood for.

Beijing sees the consensus as the basis of any talks with Taipei.

But since becoming the island’s president in 2016, Tsai, of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, has not acknowledged the consensus, prompting Beijing to suspend exchanges and talks with Taipei, woo away four of the island’s diplomatic allies and launch a series of military drills near Taiwan.

KMT pulls pro-unification plank from party platform

Ma said many people he had visited in the past two years, including those in Kaohsiung in southern Taiwan, the traditional base of the pro-independence movement, complained about sharp losses in business because of Tsai’s policy.

He also said Tsai’s efforts to try to completely replace nuclear power, resulting in huge power outages a year ago, were inappropriate.

“For the happiness of the next generation … we hope you all can join us so that Taiwan can once again fly high and the Republic of China can continue to move forward,” he said.

The foundation counts many former officials in Ma’s government among its members, including former presidential deputy secretary general Kao Lang, Taiwan’s former unofficial envoy to the US Shen Lyu-shun, former China Development Industrial Bank president Benny Hu, and academics. It has also attracted NT$6.8 million (US$222,000) in funding from Foxconn billionaire Terry Gou and named KMT lawmaker Wang Yu-min as the director of its board.

While many politicians see the foundation as a platform for Ma to oppose the Tsai government, the former leader said he would use it to “offer constructive proposals” for the administration to “improve its policies”.

Ma stressed that the foundation went “beyond elections” but his former aide, Lo Chih-chiang, said it would be better “for people to have the room to imagine” the possibility of Ma staging a comeback.

“With such imagination, those who want to run for the top post will strive to sharpen their competitive edges, and the [Kuomintang] party itself would also become more active and progressive,” he said.

One KMT source said that at first Ma would concentrate on using the foundation to push back at the DPP’s “political witch hunt” against the KMT.

Former Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou sentenced to 4 months in prison for leaking information

Tsai’s government has formed a committee to investigate into what it deems as illegal assets held by the KMT since it set up an interim government in Taiwan in 1949 after its defeat in a civil war with the communists. Ma claimed on Friday that the move not only violated the constitution, but also the legal principles of retroactiveness and the presumption of innocence before prosecution.

“But no one can rule out the possibility Ma might stage a comeback if his popularity continues to rise to a level that no other KMT aspirant can match,” the source said.

Ma, who has been targeted by the judiciary under the DPP government for alleged corruption and breach of trust, has seen his once low level of popularity rise sharply in the past year due mainly to the poor performances of the Tsai government.