Still weeks away from president-elect Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) inauguration and ideological hardliners in the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) have made it clear that Ma’s presidency is going to be no easy ride — not for Ma, not for his party and not for Taiwan.
In an ideal world, a fresh president enjoying a comprehensive mandate could expect a degree of respect and goodwill from his foes in other parties. But this is Taiwan, where the most aggressive attacks against the nation’s next leader are coming from within his party’s ranks.
The trigger for all of this gnashing of teeth has been the appointment of former Taiwan Solidarity Union (TSU) legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) as chair of the Mainland Affairs Council. Like her party, Lai was not a distinguished performer in the legislature, but her rise to a Cabinet post is not inappropriate. Ma and premier-designate Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) have reasons for their actions, even if they may not be reasonable to some people. Whether or not she does her job well — that is, to the satisfaction of Ma’s team — is a matter for time to decide.
Some in the Democratic Progressive Party predictably opposed the move, but their opinions on this matter are of little importance here. Of marginally more importance is the reaction of the TSU chairman, who crassly likened Lai’s Cabinet appointment to “marrying off” a daughter — a vivid demonstration of why the TSU cannot appeal to mainstream voters and is bound for the grave.
It was the reaction of KMT members that would make the Ma camp nervous. All it took was a single adventurous appointment in a Cabinet made up of dozens of posts to set off the hardliners: Where is our reward for unerring devotion to the KMT, they fume, as if the spoils of Cabinet positions should be given to select party hacks at the expense of a president’s national agenda. Their demand: Don’t even give Lai a chance.
The years of bile spewed at President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) by media-savvy talking heads such as KMT Legislator Chiu Yi (邱毅) were not simply partisan. It turns out that the ferocity of attacks against Chen also inflicted damage on the dignity of the office of president itself. Ma has inherited a presidency weakened in the eyes of legislators who have designs on its authority.
Diversity of opinion is one thing, but faltering loyalty to one’s party and one’s president is another.
The hot ticket for budding journalists and political scientists is not a “China-friendly” KMT building closer ties with China. This process has bureaucratic and political obstacles that no number of ideological demands can remove, not to mention China’s unerring ability to antagonize even its sympathizers. The reality of this has already dawned on Ma, as illustrated by his concessions to moderate green voters in the presidential campaign, and now by appointing a nominal green-camp member to a Cabinet agency.
Wiser minds will instead focus on the KMT itself and its inability to control the greed and ambition of its legislators as power changes hands. This of course assumes that the KMT can ever again be referred to as “it,” in the third person singular, when “they” might be more fitting.
Recent history suggests why: This is the party that for 15 years has produced splinter groups that have disrupted its ability to rule and destroyed its election campaigns. Now, with several KMT legislators demanding an apology from their “president” before he has even been sworn in, a relapse seems on the cards.