The Shih Ming-teh phenomenon

By William Fang, Special to The China Post

With the 2012 presidential election just one year away, Shih Ming-teh, a former chairman of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), along with several prominent leaders from business, art, intellectual and military circles, has launched a “I’m Still Hopeful” movement, calling for 100,000 people to sign up to support it. According to Shih, it is a campaign of political thought, which will form an alliance online through Facebook to urge presidential candidates from both “blue” and “green” camps to address the issues of national identity, the governmental system, cross-strait relations and national security. In May, a “Taiwan People’s Conference” will be held to find an outlet for the future of Taiwan, Shih said. When asked whether he will run for the president, Shih said he does not rule out any possibility. Once this force of those who loathe the “rotten apples” offered by both “blue” and “green” camps is consolidated, he said, “we’ll definitely impact the presidential and legislative elections in 2012.” Shih, who led the famed “Red Shirt Army” in 2006 that almost toppled the corrupt administration of Chen Shui-bian, is definitely a charismatic figure in Taiwan. His eloquence, casual and yet elegant lifestyle and shrewd political sense in terms of accurately grasping the national mood at the right time is matched by few in Taiwanese politics. His enormous success in promoting and expounding the anti-Chen cause and the excellent timing of his “revolutionary” move speaks for the likelihood that the “I’m Still Hopeful” campaign will succeed in the same way. And there is also likely that Shih will be elected the next president of Taiwan when he can rally support of the majority of the local voters disenchanted with the policy of President Ma Ying-jeou.

Ma’s political limbo has been further exacerbated by his recent brawl with an influential political commentator over his credibility, his controversial handling of the issue regarding the Philippine government’s decision to extradite Taiwanese citizens involved in a fraud case in the country to mainland China and the latest smashing defeats suffered by the candidates fielded by the Kuomintang (KMT) in two legislative by-elections in southern Taiwan. All political scientists know that crises provide the best opportunities for charismatic leaders to emerge. This was why Ma won a landslide victory in the presidential election in 2008 at a time when the nation felt so outraged and frustrated with a flagrantly corrupt president. Now the nation, under the rule of Ma, appears to share the same sentiment as it did under Chen, although for different reasons. And Shih and his supporters intend to capture and exploit this national mood. But, for all his enchanting characteristics, Shih remains, basically, a romantic person, which poses a serious question as to whether he will be a competent and effective supreme head of state. Take Ma for example. Even with valid credentials as two-term mayor of Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, Ma is still perceived as lacking the sufficient ability to govern as the supreme national leader.