Ma was elected Mayor of Taipei in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. He was elected Chairman of the Kuomintang by party members on July 16, 2005. He announced his resignation on February 13, 2007 after being indicted by the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office on charges of during his tenure as the mayor of Taipei. Ma subsequently won the presidency in the . He was sworn into office on 20 May 2008.
Ma was born in Hong Kong , then a , to father Ma Ho-ling from Xiangtan, Hunan or Hengshan, Hunan . When he was one year old, his family moved to Taiwan.
He earned a law degree from National Taiwan University in 1972. He completed additional studies in the United States, first earning an from New York University Law School in 1976 and then an degree from Harvard Law School in 1981.
After receiving his LL.M., Ma briefly worked as an on Wall Street in New York. Ma returned to Taiwan in 1981 to teach law.
Ma is married to with two daughters. Lesley was born when Ma was studying in the US; she is currently a graduate student at New York University, having completed her undergraduate work at Harvard University.
Rise in politics
Ma Ying-jeou started working for Chiang Ching-kuo of the after earning his S.J.D. first as an English translator and assistant. Ma was later promoted to the chair of the Research, Development, and Evaluation Commission under the Executive Yuan at the age of 38, becoming the youngest cabinet member in the ROC government.
Ma was deputy secretary-general of the from 1984 to 1988, also serving for a period as deputy of the Mainland Affairs Council , a cabinet-level body in charge of cross-straits relations. President Lee Teng-hui appointed him in 1993. Ma was relieved of his post in 1996. His supporters claim that firing was caused by his efforts at fighting corruption and has contributed to his clean image. Despite his efforts at anti-corruption, he remained a supporter of the Kuomintang rather than supporting the which was formed by KMT supporters who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform. After a short stint as a minister without portfolio, Ma returned to academia, and most people at the time believed his political career to have effectively ended.
In 1998, the KMT fielded Ma to challenge the then-incumbent Taipei mayor Chen Shui-bian of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party who was seeking re-election. Despite Chen's public approval rating of over 80%, Chen was defeated. In the , Ma remained loyal to the KMT and supported its candidate, Lien Chan, over James Soong, who had bolted from the party and was running as an independent. The competition between Lien and Soong split the Pan-Blue vote and allowed his former rival Chen to win the presidential election with less than 50% of the popular vote. The election result, combined with other factors, incited a great deal of anger against Ma when he tried to dissuade discontented Lien and Soong supporters from protesting by appealing to them in his dual capacities as Taipei City mayor and high-ranking KMT member.
Ma was able to repair the political damage and in December 2002, he became the leading figure in the KMT by easily winning reelection as mayor of Taipei with the support of 64% of Taipei voters while DPP challenger Lee Ying-yuan received 36%. His solid victory, especially in light of opposition from both President Chen and former President and KMT Chairman Lee Teng-hui, led many to speculate about his chances as the KMT candidate for the 2004 presidential elections, although nothing came of it.
Ma again dissuaded angry Pan-Blue supporters from protesting following the very close re-election victory of President Chen in 2004 after 3-19 shooting incident. Ma chose not to join in calls to challenge or contest the election. Ma also avoided associating himself with claims that the assassination was staged.
Ma suffered some political damage as a result of the SARS epidemic in early 2003 and was criticized for not mobilizing the Taipei city government quickly enough, and for keeping Chiu Shu-ti, the public health director, who was previously criticized for her lack of concern for the outbreak. Flooding in metropolitan Taipei in 2004 also led to public questioning of his leadership and caused Ma's approval rating to slide.
During his time as Taipei's mayor, Ma had many conflicts with the central government over matters such as health insurance rates and control of the water supply during the drought. Ma also was implicated in a scandal of Taipei Bank stock releases in 2003; however, the case was dismissed after an investigation by the Taipei prosecutor. He was strongly criticized by the for not allowing the ROC national flag to be flown along with a PRC flag during a cross-strait soccer match held in Taipei. Ma responded that he was merely following Olympic , which only officially recognizes the , and forbids ROC national flags from being shown in an Olympic Game Stadium.
His initiatives in administering the city of Taipei include changing the transliterations of street names and the Taipei Rapid Transit System's line and station names into Hanyu Pinyin, as opposed to Tongyong Pinyin. Ma has expressed mild support for Chinese reunification and opposition to Taiwan independence. He opposed the , which had been widely criticized by the U.S. and PRC. Nevertheless, his opposition to the Anti-Secession Law of the People's Republic of China led him to be banned from visiting Hong Kong to make a public speaking tour in 2005. He also criticized the PRC for the .
Ma's cross-political following has led some to note him as a rare example of relative civility in the notoriously rough and tumble world of Taiwanese politics. Ma has generally avoided being accused of using the vitriolic and sometimes offensive rhetoric common in Taiwanese political debate. His academic background and bearing have helped cultivate the image of Ma as an honest, dispassionate technocrat. Despite this reputation, and his wooden speaking style and shy demeanor, Ma is also considered a charismatic figure and is popular among women and youth. On the other hand, Ma's critics claim that Ma, overeager to appear unbiased and/or neutral, is overly indecisive and lacks bold vision. Ma is often accused of avoiding being out in front on some of the more vigorous or controversial criticisms of President Chen or opposing parties, or involving himself in intra-party disputes. Among these critics, Ma has been referred to as a "non-stick " or "-man." Recently there has also been some criticism of his stumping for election candidates suspected of and later indicted for corruption charges. Many in the Pan-Green Coalition expressed opinions that Ma misled voters by lending his clean charismatic image to unscrupulous candidates in his own party.
In recent years, Ma has increasingly employed in public speaking, perhaps to avoid backlash for his parents' mainland origin, and he has called himself a "child of ," identifying himself with the historic district of Taipei where he grew up. Others claim that Ma's mainland Chinese ancestry will further alienate members of the KMT who are "light-blue" vs. the pro-unification "deep-blue." However, Ma seems less polarizing in this sense than Lien Chan or other older KMT figures who did not grow up in Taiwan and are regarded by some as elitist about their ancestry.
Controversies during Mayoralty
While often nicknamed as “Teflon pot” for his extreme preservation of personal image, Ma was nonetheless caught in some political controversies. A series of mishaps during his tenure as the Mayor of Taipei, including the administration problems that enlarged the extent of the Typhoon Nari , the Shutdown of Hoping Hospital , the Phosgene Incident , the Scalping Incident and the Human Ball Scandal , impaired Ma’s reputation. However, Ma maneuvered through these incidents relatively unscathed.
One of his latest case is the Beitou Cable Car Link. According to Taiwan Laws, Taipei Municipal Government is the sole sponsor of this disputed BOT. However, the local press kept closing up on the detention of Yen Wan-chin, the allegedly bribed deputy Minister of Interior who staged a hunger strike for his innocence, for a few days, and played it down as independent critics began to put up their findings about wrongdoings of Taipei Municipal Government and question Ma’s responsibility as the Mayor.
One of Ma's most satisfactory mayoral construction was the Maokong Gondola. However, the frequent breakdown of the gondola caused the residents' distaste of the new transportation system. Only 14% of the Taipei City residents were satisfied with it. It even led to protests. The Taiwan Environmental Information Center states that the choice to use the gondola used in the temperate zone in the tropical zone shows the failure of the Taipei City government led by Ma.
On November 14, 2006, Ma was questioned by prosecutors over his alleged misuse of a special expenses account as Taipei mayor. This occurred after Chen Shui-Bian was being investigated for corruption, and many KMT supporters believed that this prosecution was politically motivated.
At the same time, rumors surfaced that former party chairman Lien Chen would run in the presidential election of 2008. The incident may have affected the clean image of Ma and his political future. On the next day, Ma admitted one of his aides forged receipts to claim Ma's expenses as Taipei mayor, and apologized for the latest political scandal. However, Ma argued that he, like most other government officials, regarded the special expense account as a supplement to salary to pay for personal expenses undertaken in the course of official duties, and that his use of this account was not illegal.
On February 13, 2007, Ma was indicted by the Taiwan High Prosecutors Office on charges of allegedly embezzling approximately NT$11 million , regarding the issue of "special expenses" while he was mayor of Taipei. The prosecutor's office said that Ma had allegedly used government funds for personal use, such as paying for one of his daughter's living expenses while studying abroad and paying for his household utilities. Before that, Ma had admitted personal usage and claims that the special funds were simply a part of his salary but had used all funds for public use or public benefit .
Shortly after the indictment, he submitted his resignation as chairman of the Kuomintang in accordance with party rules which prohibit an indicted person from serving as KMT chairman The resignation was initially rejected but then accepted by the party's Central Standing Committee before amending a clause that barred members from running for office if charged with a crime. Shortly after the resignation, however, Ma announced his presidential candidacy.
On August 14, 2007, the Taipei District Count found Ma not guilty of corruption, and cleared his name of all charges stating that "Special Expenses" is essentially "Special allowance" which was originally designed to compensate for mayor's "social spending" without actually raising salary. On December 28, 2007, the Taiwan High Court again found Ma not guilty of graft charges.
On April 24, 2008, The Supreme Court cleared Ma of corruption charges, delivering a final ruling in this matter before his inauguration on May 20, 2008. The island's highest court said Ma had neither collected illegal income nor tried to break the law.
KMT chairmanship, 20052007
Ma's prestige increased after the loss by Lien Chan in as he is widely seen as the natural successor of Lien Chan. His handling of the post-election demonstrations of the Pan-Blue Coalition, in which he at one point sent riot police to control the demonstrations of his pan-blue party supporters, was generally seen as impartial. In 2005, Ma and Wang Jin-pyng were candidates in the first competitive election for KMT chairmanship. On 5 April 2005, in an exclusive interview with CTV talk show host Sisy Chen, Ma said he wished to lead the opposition Kuomintang with Wang, if he were elected its chairman, as their support bases are complementary. On July 16, 2005, Ma defeated Wang by a 72% to 28% margin, a margin larger than anticipated by either camp or news sources, despite Wang's receiving a last-minute endorsement by chairman James Soong, who had retained significant following within the KMT. Some, particularly the supporters of Wang Jin-pyng, accuse Ma of unfairly implying that Wang is involved in "black gold" and criticized Ma's aides for being rude to Wang during the campaign. After the election, Ma had stated repeatedly that he wishes Wang to remain as first-ranked deputy chairman. Wang, however, has so far rebuffed the gesture, instead stating that he wishes to serve as "permanent volunteer." Wang has, indeed, accepted a party post that is incompatible with vice chairmanship, effectively ending the possibility that he would be vice chairman, although after meeting with Wang, Ma had stated that he would "leave the position open" for Wang. Ma has also repeatedly stated that he had no plans to resign from the Taipei mayorship, even after he formally took over the chairmanship from incumbent Lien Chan during the 17th Party Congress of the KMT in August 2005.
Led by Ma Ying-jeou, the Kuomintang made a resounding win in the held on December 3, 2005. The KMT gained 6 more seats in the mayoral/magistratical race, from 8 seats in the last election, to a total of 14 seats. Before the election, Ma swore that he would quit the chairmanship if his party could not win over half of the seats, which was a first for a KMT chairman. It was a decisive win for Ma Ying-jeou as well, since he took over the party chairmanship only 110 days before. In the election, the KMT won back the counties of Taipei and Yilan, and the city of Chiayi, which had been the Democratic Progressive Party 's strongholds for over twenty years. It was the first time in many years that the KMT regained popularity as far south as Cho-Shui River . Quoting again his famous quote, Ma said, "we should only be excited about it for one evening."
2008 presidential campaign
On the same day he resigned as chairman of the KMT, Ma also announced his intention to run in the 2008 presidential elections. He was the official nominee of the Kuomintang for the 2008 presidential elections.
Ma led a visit to India and Singapore in June 2007 to increase bilateral exchanges as well as to gain legitimacy and experience for his 2008 presidential bid.
Ma's vice-presidential running mate was former premier Vincent Siew. Siew was also Lien Chan's running mate in the 2000 elections.
During a campaigning event in an community, Ma made a controversial remark. Responding a question from an aboriginal woman, Ma said, "...you are a Taipei citizen; I see you as a human being..." This statement was thought to be extremely inappropriate.
U.S. green card issue
Democratic Progressive Party candidate Frank Hsieh questioned Ma for his possession of a United States Permanent Resident Card. Ma denied having one and publicly expressed that no members of his family had one. However, the fact that Ma and his wife had applied for green cards and that his sisters and his older daughter Lesley Ma are caused controversy as the DPP continued to question Ma's loyalty to the country. In response to the DPP attack on the US citizenship of his sisters, Ma commented that having a US passport or green card did not mean that someone was not loyal to Taiwan. Ma responded the next day to the president that he should work on improving Taiwan's economy instead of caring about the election so much; earlier, Ma also provided copies of US non-immigrant visas issued to him during the 1980s and 1990s, claiming the card was invalid as such visas are not issued to green card holders. However, the DPP campaign continued to allege that the green card was valid.
Ma has been criticized by many environmental groups. His mayoral construction of the Maokong Gondola was criticized by the Taiwan Environmental Information Center. The city government said that the ages of the trees are unknown, therefore they are not protected by law. The SOW then responded that according to pictures taken by the United States Air Force in 1947 and 1948, these trees were present already during the . In February 2008, several environmental groups created a list of commitments for the two candidates to sign. DPP candidate Frank Hsieh agreed on all the items on the list and signed it in March. Ma did not, and emailed the group instead. The Taiwan Environmental Protection Union criticized Ma for ignoring the important issue and not having guts to sign the commitments.
After Ma was elected president on March 22, 2008, the Green Party Taiwan expressed its fear that president-elect Ma focuses too much on improving the economy, that he has ignored many critical environmental issues. The head of the Environmental Quality Protection Foundation also emphasized the importance of environmental protection as one of the factors of economic development.
Ma officially won on March 22, 2008 with 58% of the vote, ending 8 years of Democratic Progressive Party rule. Ma won with 7,659,014 votes against 5,444,949 votes. Ma's overwhelming victory in the presidential election gave him political mandate to make changes in Taiwan.
Ma took office on May 20 2008. The inaugural ceremony took place in Taipei Arena in Taipei. A state dinner took place in Kaohsiung the same day.
With a declining economy and his administration's seeming inability to reverse the declines, Ma saw his approval ratings steadily decline through his months in office. Ma won the approval of 41% in June 2008; 24.9% in September; and 23% in October, according to polling done by TVBS.
On August 12, 2008, Ma embarked on his first foreign trip as President. Ma's visit centered upon improving relations with Taiwan's allies. He attended the inaugurations of both Leonel Fernandez of the Dominican Republic and Fernando Lugo of Paraguay. Ma also made a stop at Panama and met with President Martin Torrijos. There was emphasis that there will be no new aid packages during the visits; if any new economic aid were to be announced, they would be announced from Taiwan and not from abroad. The trip included U.S. stop-overs in Los Angeles, , and San Francisco. Ma's trip across the Pacific was via commercial flight and only chartered a smaller jet from the United States; he was accompanied by an 81-member delegation.
In a published August 11, 2008 edition, Time Magazine writes that in less than three months' time, "''relations between Taiwan and China have arguably seen the most rapid advancement in the six-decade standoff between the two governments. Ma launched direct weekend charter flights between China and Taiwan for the first time, opened Taiwan to mainland tourists, eased restrictions on Taiwan investment on the mainland and approved measures that will allow mainland investors to buy Taiwan stocks.''"
One of Ma's promises as presidential candidate was called the "633 Plan," which promised of 6%, unemployment rate of less than 3%, and per capita income of more than 30,000. However, high unemployment rate and high consumer price index attributed to a high three months after Ma's inauguration not seen in 28 years.
In early September, Ma, in an interview with a Mexican newspaper, admitted that he will not be able to achieve his "633 Plan" promises before the end of his first term.
About 2,000 companies had gone bankrupt since Ma's inauguration, according to a governmental commercial office in Taipei. The Taiwan Stock Exchange also fell to two-year lows in September 2008.
On 11 Sept. 2008, Ma's cabinet unveiled a $5.6-billion USD economic stimulus package. Among the items of the package are infrastructure projects, economic incentives to small businesses, and other tax cuts. Stock transaction taxes are also halved for the next six months. Taiwan's economy will likely grow 4.3% in 2008, down from 5.7 in 2007, according to Fitch Ratings.
Although an economic stimulus plan was introduced, Taiwan stocks still closed lower on 11 Sept. 2008. Financial Times describes Taiwan's economy as suffering "downward pressure driven by global factors." Analysts also point out that, "During its first 100 days in office, the government has made a series of bold steps to deregulate economic ties between Taiwan and China. But as these policies coincided with the global downturn and foreign investors had already bought Taiwan stocks heavily before the election, betting on the reforms, the island’s market has seen a sell-off worse than the regional average."
View on independence
In February 2006, while visiting Europe, Ma said that although he and the KMT favor eventual reunification, the KMT respects the opinions of Taiwanese people, and independence is a choice for the people of Taiwan. This caused widespread criticism within the party and from the mainland. In a December 2005 Newsweek International interview when asked about unification, Ma stated that "for our party, the eventual goal is reunification, but we don't have a timetable," explaining that he meant it was a choice for Taiwan but a choice for the Chinese KMT. Perhaps to deflect heavy criticism from the Pan-Green Coalition the KMT later made an advertisement in the Liberty Times recognizing that independence is an option for the Taiwanese people. Wang Jin-pyng praised Ma for the policy shift since Wang himself made a similar statement during the 2004 election, but James Soong said he was "shocked" and Lien Chan said he was never consulted. This event actually won some welcome voices from Southern Taiwan where voters customarily favor the Pan-Green Coalition. One top KMT official said "we might as well let the measles out now so that we will be immune to it when election year comes close, because reunification or independence can be a hot topic by then."
Ma clarified later that the current KMT policy of retaining the status quo has not changed and has reiterated this position several times; further he also has reiterated his party's support of the one-China policy. Ma has defined the status quo as the "Five No's." During a visit to the United States in March 2006, he proposed a "proactive" approach to cross-strait relations which he called the "Five Do's."
On March 17, 2008, Ma threatened to boycott the Beijing Olympics if elected should the 2008 unrest in Tibet spiral out of control.
Ma Ying-jeou told March 23, 2008, one day after his success in Taiwan's presidential election, 2008, he had no immediate plans to visit mainland China and would work to fulfill his campaign pledge to improve relations with the mainland, starting direct flights, allowing more mainland tourists to visit and helping the island's financial industry go to the mainland.
Since then, Ma Ying-jeou has repeatedly mentioned the "1992 Consensus" as the existing basis for constructive dialogue and exchange between the Mainland and Taiwan. On 12th April 2008, then Vice-President-elect Vincent Siew formally met with Hu Jintao at the Boao Forum in Hainan, China.
Ma Ying-jeou wrote his doctoral dissertation on the legal basis of ROC's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands. Throughout his political career, Ma has made several statements criticizing the failure by the central government to assert sovereignty over the islands, and that he would have no reservations or qualms for war over the islands .
*"Disputes over oily waters: a case study of continental shelf problems and foreign oil investments in the East China Sea and Taiwan Strait." Ying-jeou Ma, Thesis , Harvard Law School, December 1980.
*''Legal Problems of Seabed Boundary Delimitation in the East China Sea'', Ying-jeou Ma, with a Foreword by Professor Louis B. Sohn. Baltimore: Occasional Papers/Reprints Series in Contemporary Asian Studies Inc., 1984.