Wed, Nov 22, 2006 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Stop recycling the old guard

Amid an investigation into alleged misuse of the mayoral special allowance fund by Taipei Mayor and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), talk has picked up of former KMT chairman Lien Chan (連戰) replacing Ma on the 2008 presidential ticket. If the KMT backs Lien for a third run, this decision to turn back the clock would be a negative move.

Since taking over as KMT chairman a year ago, Ma's obsession with clean governance has appeared incompatible with the nature of the KMT and caused resistance within the party. He lacks a diplomatic touch, making it difficult for him to bridge rifts in his relations with Legislative Speaker Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and Lien. Over the past year, Ma has yet to realize most of his promised reforms and now his image has been further tarnished by the recent scandal.

But even if Ma has faltered, why Lien? His neighborly "ice-breaking" trips to China notwithstanding, what has he done to remake the KMT? Nothing. Even Lien's boast that he could convince China to buy 2,000 tonnes of surplus Taiwanese bananas proved a gross exaggeration. But luckily for the KMT, its ineptitude has been overshadowed by the Democratic Progressive Party's (DPP) scandals.

If the majority of KMT members believe Ma isn't fit to continue leading the party, they should recall him according to party procedures. They should elect Lien as chairman instead of transferring power through shady deals. More than 40 years of KMT rule fostered a system in which seniority and rank were more important than ability, and officials simply waited for positions to fall into their lap. Young politicians squandered most of their time and energy pandering to their superiors and squeezing out competitors instead of working on things that mattered and earning public trust.

Lien represents an era of power struggles superceding national interests. This is very different from the DPP's style, which emphasizes that whoever wins votes wields power, and so encourages members to fight for support outside the party. This is why President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was able to beat out members of the DPP old guard like former chairmen Hsu Hsin-liang (許信良) and Shih Ming-teh (施明德) for the presidential nomination in 2000. This age difference is also manifested in the DPP government's Cabinet members, who are an average 10 years younger than previous KMT ministers. These 40 and 50-year-olds are the Cabinet's main strength, and highlight how the DPP draws its power from developing young talent, while the KMT still relies on relics from the past.

The KMT finally has a relatively young leader, although at 57 he's not really all that young. But with Ma facing trouble over his administrative negligence, the KMT has not responded by searching the party ranks for a capable leader from the younger generation. Instead, it is considering whether to pull Lien out of the recycling bin to represent the party in the 2008 presidential race. But as the KMT is not lacking in young talent, Lien's potential nomination only indicates that the party discounts the wisdom of voters, who have already rejected him twice in presidential elections.

Video footage of Houzaimen Elementary School students in China's Shaanxi Province chanting "Grandpa Lien, you're finally back!" during Lien's visit to China in May last year became Taiwan's most popular comedy clip. But the same chant in the KMT would be a horror movie. If Ma is not suitable to run for the presidency in 2008, then Lien is even more unsuitable, unless you are a DPP strategist. At least Wang would be a breath of fresh air.

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