Taiwan President Ma sings 2nd-term blues

Monday marked the first anniversary of President Ma Ying-jeous second-term inauguration, but he had little reason to be happy.

He cancelled all activities scheduled Monday for the occasion, citing bad weather. It is the first time such an event was cancelled since he was first elected in 2008.

Since he was reelected in 2012 with a large majority, Ma has suffered a massive reduction in popularity. Polls show his public approval rating at well below 20 percent.

Things are going badly at home. The biggest complaint remains the economy. It has performed badly, largely due to austerity measures in Europe and the United States -- traditional export markets for Taiwanese goods.

While trade and tourism have picked up with China since the signing of a free trade framework agreement in 2010, it has not been enough to offset losses elsewhere. Last year's 1.2 percent growth in Taiwan's gross domestic product is the worst in recent memory.

Since Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident two years ago, controversy surrounding Taiwan's fourth nuclear power plant is turning into a perfect storm.

Many observers consider this year to be critical as the builder and operator of the facility, Taiwan Power Co., plans to begin loading fuel rods next year and start operations in 2015.

Seeking to put the longstanding issue to rest, the Ma administration has announced its plan to hold a public referendum on whether to stop the project, which entered the construction phase in 1999.

If Ma's first term was characterized by "inaction," his second term can be best described as "chaotic" and "messy," said political commentator Nan Fang Shuo.

On foreign policy, in area in which Ma has been criticized for being too weak, he has been taking advantage of a recent row with the Philippines to show his toughness.

In the wake of the incident, in which the Philippine coast guard shot dead a Taiwanese fisherman in disputed waters two weeks ago, Ma's administration has been attempting to distance itself from China, which lost no time in attempting to act Taiwan's big brother in the dispute with the Philippines, while also positioning itself to take advantage of Manila's obvious concern not to rile Beijing.

Despite escalating tensions in the South China Sea, Ma has managed to score political points by signing a landmark bilateral fisheries pact with Japan, ending a decades-long dispute over fishing in the contested waters that are rich in resources.

The new pact establishes a platform for handling fisheries issues between Taiwan and Japan, and sets a precedent for other negotiations between the two governments, which have close economic and cultural relations despite the absence of official diplomatic ties.