Taiwan Elects HLS Grad

Nationalist Party frontman and Harvard Law School (HLS) graduate Ma Ying-jeou is set to assume Taiwan’s top executive office in the wake of his victory in the country’s recent presidential elections.

Ma, a 1981 HLS alumnus and the former mayor of Taipei City, won Taiwan’s March 22 election by a 17 percent margin.

His party, considered more favorable to a rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) than the rival Democratic Progressive Party, will face challenges in reestablishing relations with the Mainland.

HLS professor and Director of East Asian Legal Studies William P. Alford, who met Ma when the two were students at the Law School some 30 years ago, recognized the historical nature of the president-elect’s mandate.

“This particular person in this particular point in history is very exciting in determining what the best relationship between Mainland China and Taiwan should be,” he said. “He has the opportunity to be a really historic figure.”

According to Alford, Ma’s principles and intelligence, as well as the experience he accrued as a Minister of Justice, will help him to lead Taiwan.

“He’s somebody of immense God-given talent, there’s no question about that,” Alford said. “[He has] a reputation of being incredibly scrupulous and clean.”

Eric I. Lu ’09, a former co-president of the Harvard Taiwanese Cultural Society who has met Ma, praised him for being down to earth.

“I think he’s a very genuine person, that’s why he’s so popular in Taiwan,” Lu said. “And people think he’s pretty good-looking.”

But not everyone is as optimistic about the prospect of Ma’s presidency.

Chieh-Ting Yeh ’04, who has also met Ma on several occasions, said he feels that the politician’s perfect self-presentation was over the top.

“He’s very well-spoken, pretty gentle-mannered,” Yeh said. “He knows exactly what he wants to say, but I’d like to see a more personal side.”

He also expressed skepticism about the leader’s ability to effect change in the country’s dialogue with the Mainland.

“While [he] could potentially improve relations between Taiwan and the PRC, it remains to be seen how much of a compromise he can strike without undermining the interests in sovereignty on the Taiwanese side.”

Still, Yeh lauded the process, if not its winner.

“What strikes me is how much people are getting more comfortable about voting people in and voting people out of office: It’s a good thing to keep politicians on their toes,” Yeh said.

Ma will take office at a ceremony in Taipei on May 22.

—Staff writer Rebecca A. Schuetz can be reached at schuetz@fas.harvard.edu.