Can Ma Ying-jeou Weather the Storm?
“Morakot dumped more than 80 inches (two meters) of rain on the island last weekend and stranded thousands in villages in the mountainous south. A total of 15,400 villagers have been ferried to safety, and rescuers are working to save another 1,900 people. The storm destroyed the homes of 7,000 people and caused agricultural and property damage in excess of 50 billion New Taiwan dollars ($1.5 billion), Ma told the security conference.”
Since that time and with hundreds of victims still buried in the rubble of mudslides throughout mountain villages in Southern Taiwan, President Ma’s response has been inadequate at best, even among his own supporters.
“Criticism of Ma’s handling of the Morakot disaster is rising quickly — even within Ma’s own party and in media outlets normally friendly to the president. Much of the criticism focused on comments he made Thursday to Britain’s Independent Television News in which he appeared to blame Morakot victims for their own fate. “They were not fully prepared. If they were, they should have been evacuated much earlier,” Ma told an ITN reporter. “They didn’t realize how serious the disaster was.”
Taiwan’s normally pro-Ma China Times newspaper lambasted the president for the remarks, saying they were badly out of place. “It is not presidential to tell international media that the blame falls on people who would not evacuate in order to safeguard their own homes,” the newspaper said.
Ma also has come under fire for his handling of government efforts to save storm victims and help the island’s hard-hit south recover. “If we expect the people to do everything themselves, what do we need a government for?” chided lawmaker Lo Shu-lei of Ma’s ruling Nationalist Party. Ma “seems to be out of the loop and doesn’t understand the way the relief system works,” she said.
The criticism of Ma is reminiscent of the hostile reaction to former President George W. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — criticism that played a major role in turning public opinion against the U.S. leader.”
However, help is on the way. After initially turning down direct aid from the United States and Japan to assist in relief efforts, the KMT government has changed its mind and asked for that assistance. From Bloomberg:
“Four U.S. helicopters that can airlift earth-moving equipment may help with relief efforts as early as tomorrow in Taiwan, where hundreds of people are believed buried under mudslides caused by Typhoon Morakot.
A U.S. coordination team arrived in Taiwan today, with two CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and two SH-60 medium-lift models to be deployed, said Chris Kavanagh, a spokesman for the American Institute in Taiwan, which represents U.S. interests on the island.
The first aircraft to arrive, a CH-53, was from the Naval squadron, which helped relief work after Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005. All four helicopters will be based on the USS Denver, which is usually stationed in Japan and is to be positioned off Taiwan’s southern coast to assist with the relief mission.”
My wife has talked to family members in Taiwan who were previous supporters of Ma during the election but are now furious over his handling of the disaster and remarks made to the public, and swear they will no longer support him. It’s common in Taiwan these days to refer to the storm as “Katrina” and not “Morakot”.
Do you think Ma’s current unpopularity on the island will affect the reconciliation between the Chinese and Taiwan governments? Will he have enough time to repair the damage before the next election, or will this crisis affect his popularity the way Hurricane Katrina affected George Bush’s?
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