DESPITE WHAT THE average observer may think, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is not monolithic. Contrasting viewpoints abound and power struggles continue beneath the surface. However, like the Republican Party in the US, the KMT manages to hide its conflicts, power struggles and dirty laundry much better than its political counterpart. That being said, conflicts are alive and well and will remain long after celebrations of the KMT's sweep in the recent legislative elections are over.
Evidence of one such conflict surfaced back in June 2005 when Ma Ying-jeou (
The competition between Ma and Wang for the KMT chair further exposed the hypocritical side of Ma -- a side his party knows well but does its best to hide. Ma advocated a good clean contest for the chairmanship based on merit.
Then shortly after this seemingly idealistic announcement, the Ma camp let loose a string of attacks against Wang's character suggesting links to black gold and crooked politics. When questioned about these tactics, Ma gave his standard pat response of avoidance.
"I know nothing about that," he said, claiming he did not authorize such low-brow attacks.
After Ma's victory, Wang refused to shake hands with Ma despite repeated attempts by Ma to orchestrate such a handshake. Wang was serving notice that while Ma might fool the public with his hypocrisy, within the party they knew him for what he was.
Despite this division, however, within the party, a strange symbiotic relationship continued to exist between Ma and the old guard.
The old guard tolerates Ma because the party has no other high-profile figure to run for president. They need him.
On the other hand, Ma needs the old guard because it controls the money, property and resources garnered from the "stolen" state assets confiscated by the KMT during its autocratic rule.
The Young Turks, who want change, support Ma but they cannot reach those assets. If Ma is to run a successful presidential campaign, then he needs those resources.
Ma is the designated leader of the Young Turks, but he has never been a strong leader. He is the leader more by default than by strength. There is no other person with enough recognition to unify the group and propose change.
Ma can mouth the obligatory statements, albeit they are platitudes, and has the image the Turks need to rally behind.
Ma's ineffectiveness further became more apparent when he was chairman of the KMT. The first of two big promises he made to the people was that he would get the pan-blue dominated Legislative Yuan to pass the arms budget. After a year-and-a-half of Ma's leadership and numerous votes on the issue in the legislature, the military budget had still not been passed.
Eventually, a token budget was passed after Ma resigned following his indictment and Wang Jin-pyng took over.
The second promise he failed to keep was his promise to divest the KMT of any "ill-gotten assets" and give the money back to the people.
During his year-and-a-half as chairman, Ma actually did sell off a couple of the many assets, but instead of giving the money to the people or the nation, Ma turned it over to the party to fill the KMT's coffers.
Likewise, when Ma had been mayor of Taipei, the changes he brought about in the city were more cosmetic than substantial.
Ma was known more for showing up for photo opportunities than accomplishing anything effective.
So, when the legislative elections came around, Ma's lack of influence continued to slump. His campaign manager expected to be offered one of the party's lucrative legislator-at-large seats. He was not, instead he was given a lesser party post.
When the KMT switched its position to that of boycotting the referendums, Ma was not even informed. As a result, Ma was caught having just promised that he would vote on the referendums when the announcement of a boycott was made public.
Thus, the recent overwhelming victory of the KMT in the legislative elections indicates that Ma's position within the party will be further weakened and marginalized.
With far more than the needed two-thirds majority, the KMT old guard can override any proposals by the president, regardless of which party the president belongs to.
The old guard no longer needs Ma. Of course, if the party has the presidency there will be many more political appointments available, but legislation-wise, Ma is not necessary.
Before the elections, it was anticipated that if the results were close and the KMT maintained its slight majority in the legislature, it would be crucial to have the presidency.
This would be Ma's and the Young Turks' bargaining chip for a greater share of the power.
Now Ma needs the old guard far more than they need him. His weak position has become weaker. In repeated confrontations with the old guard, he has become known as "Mr. Cave-in."
And while the press and the pan-blue media will still tout his alleged leadership qualities along with his "Mr. Clean" image, when real decisions are to be made within the KMT, Ma will remain window-dressing, a figurehead.
For the Taiwanese therefore, the ultimate question is if Ma cannot even control and lead his own party, how can he lead the nation?
What purpose or contribution will be served by having more of his window-dressing in the Presidential Office?
Jerome Keating is a Taiwan-based writer.
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